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2011 Grand Cherokee is eagerly anticipated


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2011 Grand Cherokee is eagerly anticipated

1st shipments due in July, but automaker says little about it



Chrysler’s first all-new post-bankruptcy vehicle — the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee — is expected to roll off the line at the Jefferson North assembly plant on Monday.

Eleven months after exiting bankruptcy, Jeep’s marketing maestros have something to tout, but CEO Sergio Marchionne has minimized the hype with a strategy to show no car before its time.

By contrast, at the 1992 Detroit auto show, Chrysler crashed the original Grand Cherokee through a glass wall months before it went on sale.

Just like that first Grand Cherokee, the redesigned version of the iconic SUV — due in dealerships in July — must break through a new set of barriers.

The last hint at what the new Grand Cherokee might look like was the New York auto show in April 2009, and it’s unclear how much Chrysler’s new Italian management from Fiat might have changed the SUV.

Jeep must reach beyond its loyalists to lure customers looking for a nimbler, car-like drive with a more luxurious interior.

“They have to show that it is more than the old one was,” said Jim Hall, a product development consultant with 2953 Analytics.

Metro Detroit has a large stake in the new Grand Cherokee. Jefferson North, which now employs about 1,500 workers, could add a second shift by year’s end if early sales are strong.

New Cherokee is a crossover that can tow

For lovers of steak-and-potatoes SUVs, the Grand Cherokee can't get here soon enough. Dealers say they expect to receive their first ones in July.

Conceived before Cerberus Capital Management's 2007 purchase of Chrysler from Daimler, the new Grand Cherokee shares its structure with Mercedes-Benz's ML.

But CEO Sergio Marchionne was not content with a watered-down Mercedes derivative. Chrysler's designers have substantially refined the interior, according to insiders who declined to be identified because they aren't authorized to talk about future products.

The base Laredo package offers leather trim and heated front seats. The upscale Overland version comes with a wood and leather heated steering wheel, voice-activated navigation system and 20-inch aluminum painted wheels.

Generally, the new Grand Cherokee faces an uphill battle. Gas prices are flirting with $3 a gallon. Midsize SUV sales in the U.S. plummeted 52% last year, worse than the total industry's 21% decline.

Still, there is opportunity. Midsize SUV sales actually rose 12% in the first quarter of 2010 from a year earlier.

One question that Jeep brand President and CEO Mike Manley will have to resolve is whether to position the new Grand Cherokee as a traditional SUV or as a crossover built on a car platform with truck characteristics.

"I'd sell it on attributes of both types because it's a crossover that can tow," said Jim Hall, managing director of Birmingham-based 2953 Analytics who advises automakers on marketing issues.

Boundaries between crossovers and SUVs will likely continue to blur.

"People will describe the vehicle however they want,"AutoPacific analyst Stephanie Brinley said. "It's more important to emphasize performance and comfort."

The new Grand Cherokee is the first vehicle to offer Chrysler's new 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar engine. Built in the company's new Trenton South engine plant, the Pentastar is to deliver more horsepower -- 290 vs. 210 -- and 11% better fuel economy than the 3.7-liter engine it replaces.

Those who want more muscle for towing can opt for the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The powertrain also features a Mercedes-engineered five-speed transmission that Chrysler makes at a plant in Kokomo, Ind.

On the manufacturing front, the new Grand Cherokee is an important test of how well the 1,500 workers at the Jefferson North assembly plant have adapted to the World Class Manufacturing system that partner Fiat introduced last year.

This standardized industrial choreography is designed to minimize waste of parts, material and worker movement.

However, trial-and-error is required in building a new vehicle. Parts, tooling and some suppliers are new. Sometimes, workers are new. They need time to learn the rhythm of how each section of the car comes together, not unlike the opening of a Broadway play or a symphony.

The process can be chaotic until everyone is comfortable.

"Chrysler management has been pretty bold in saying they won't accept anything less than a flawless launch," said Erich Merkle, an auto analyst with Autoconomy.com in Grand Rapids. "Now we'll find out if they mean it."



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i think the new pentastar is key to the success of this vehicle. Hemi is nice but for MPG Tony's garage has to sell more v6's than eights.

Jeeps heritage will be the marketing angle. You 'should' be able to assume a Jeep and a Grand Cherokee are tough enough for more than just soccer practice runs.

While I was initially awhile ago poo pooing the return of this vehicle, i think the timing is not bad for it to come around. We've seen the ludicrous ZDX's and such now. The Explorer to some degree has a similar sort of need to convey that its of the same value to the customer as it was back in the day.

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I was looking through all of Chrysler's brand websites, and it seemed like Jeep's was the least damaged. Chrysler had a whopping five cars to choose from, none of them any good (10-year old PT, awful Sebring and Sebring convertible, lousy T&C, and lame duck 300); and Dodge had a miserable collection of ugly boxes with crude powertrains and interiors, apart from the Challenger.

They should replace the GEMA engines and CVT trannys with Fiat's new MultiAir units ASAP. Whether it's the 1.8, 2.0, or 2.4, I've only read complaints about GEMA's drone, harshness, lack of power, and poor efficiency.

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