Chrysler will revive the Jeep Cherokee name next fall as a replacement for the now defunct Liberty. The mid-size SUV will debut at the New York International Auto Show in March. Not surprisingly, the Fiat-controlled company is claiming best-in-class capability, with good on-road driving dynamics, and fuel economy improvements of more than 45%. This begs the question as to whether there is a diesel in the line, but Jeep hasn’t released any other details so far. Cherokee will eventually going into production in the U.S., Italy, South America and China. As with the Dodge Dart, this new Jeep will be based on a corporate platform from owner Fiat.
Cherokee is inches wider and longer than its Italian donor platform and, as you can see, uses the traditional Jeep styling features such as a box-like body and the famous vertical slotted grille that goes back to Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe cartoons that won Pulitzer prizes during WW2.
While Jeep loyalists may scoff about an Alfa Romeo-derived SUV because the brand is known for its car-racing heritage going back more than 100 years, Fiat is not without the ability to produce a truck as this Panda concept shows. The existing production Panda is a big hit in Europe, but could be one-size too small for the U.S. unless its replacement grows to the size of the Illinois-built Jeep Compass and Patriot.
The Dart and now the Liberty replacements are significant because they are the first market test of Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne’s bet that combining Chrysler and Fiat – courtesy of billions in U.S. and Canadian taxpayer dollars – can result in a company that can successfully design, develop, assemble and sell vehicles under Fiat’s control. It is no secret that under the plan, the majority of Chrysler vehicles by 2014 will be based on ‘donor’ architectures, engines and other major components from Italian Fiat.
Marchionne has said Alfa Romeo and Jeep are the only two brands of Fiat and Chrysler with global potential because they are the most easily identified by consumers nearly everywhere. The all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee will be built in the United States at Chrysler Group’s Toledo Assembly Plant in Toledo, Ohio, and will arrive in dealer showrooms in the third quarter of this year.
During 2012, the Jeep brand set a record, with sales of more than 700,000 units worldwide. The flagship Grand Cherokee sold 220,000 units, including 52,000 units from international markets. Since 2009, Grand Cherokee sales have increased more than 200% in the U.S. and 250% outside North America, from a small base.