Chrysler, Fiat rethinking Jeep brand

Jan. 31, 2010 at 3:36 PM
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DETROIT, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Chrysler Group LLC is rethinking its venerable Jeep line while seeking to tap new owner Fiat's small car expertise, experts say.

Chrysler officials are looking to replace all of the automaker's current Jeep products -- except the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee -- with new models engineered to take advantage of the Italian company's history in fuel-efficient engines and European dealer network, The Detroit News reported Sunday.

But plans to "soften" the Jeep brand by making more car-like "crossover" vehicles and subcompacts could be risky, analysts said.

"Chrysler has to protect the crown jewel," Aaron Bragman, research analyst with IHS Global Insight, told the newspaper. "When Jeep sticks to its core values it does well. Jeep has always been a trucky off-road brand and whenever they got away from that it did not go well."

"It's a huge mistake," added University of Michigan professor Gerald Meyers, former chairman of past-Jeep owner AMC. "I couldn't think of anything worse for the brand."

Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand, told the News the brand is capable of broadening its urban appeal, and contends he is aware of the risks.

"We don't want to dilute what Jeep means," he said.

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