On sale soon, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the latest in a line of decreasingly successful midsize Jeep SUVs. As Grand Cherokees have grown more civilized, refined, and capable, they’ve also been less of a hit in the U.S. Marketplace. Yet here we have Chrysler’s first all-new model in what feels like a century (it’s been since Daimler rescinded ownership) and a subsequent need for Chrysler/Dodge/Ram/Jeep/Fiat to look good with its introduction. Is looking good even a remote possibility? A glance at recent history will enlighten.
Jeep Grand Cherokee sales in the United States topped 300,000 in 1999. Within five years total Grand Cherokee sales in the U.S. couldn’t top 140,000. In every year since the latest Grand Cherokee’s (generation WK) introduction, U.S. sales have fallen. From 139,148 in 2006 to 120,937 in 2007 to 73,678 in 2008 and finally 50,328 in 2009, the WK Jeep Grand Cherokee was let down by Chrysler’s poor quality reputation, the Grand Cherokee’s own cartoonish headlights, and markedly preferable crossover competition.
In May, U.S. sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee were only about half the Toyota Highlander’s figure, about one-third the Honda Pilot’s total, and quite a bit less than the moderately successful Ford Flex; the soft but stylish Nissan Murano; and the reinvigorated Toyota 4Runner. North of the border in Canada, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was soundly trounced, as well.
Perhaps there remains a couple of reasons to raise expectations. May’s U.S. sales of the Grand Cherokee were only down 7%. That’s not brutal for an about-to-be-replaced vehicle. Meanwhile, year-to-date sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee are up 16%. But hold on a second: May sales are down from what was an abysmal total. Remember? 2009 sales had plummeted from 2008’s already-low tally. And though year-to-date sales have risen 16%, a five-month total of 22,550 is nothing to write home to Torino about.
First and foremost, any alleged 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee success must be put in the context of a previous era. And why not? Highlanders, Pilots, Edges, and Traverses are still marketed successfully. Why couldn’t Jeep do the same with a modern SUV in 2011? Second, if the 2011 Grand Cherokee doesn’t immediately post significant gains over 2009’s middling sales, it’s safe to ignore any spin Fiat/Chrysler execs try to pull off.
That’s enough of the Sales Stats analysis. What about the actual vehicle? Pictures can be seen in the Gallery below. Those pics reveal a 2011 Grand Cherokee which, stylistically, is miles ahead of the outgoing WK Grand Cherokee. Chrysler is no longer bound by Daimler executives who didn’t like too much public acknowledgement of “sharing”. Thus Jeep isn’t hiding the 2011 Grand Cherokee’s Mercedes-Benz ML-derived platform. It’s funny that, after pointing out that fact, Jeep’s press release immediately points to the theory that they (Jeep) invented the SUV segment. Uh… then why did you need to borrow a platform from the Germans?
Off-road capability and fuel efficiency have both been improved. Horsepower rises to 360 horsepower for buyers who opt for the 5.7L Hemi V8. Strangely, both the 280-bhp V6 and the Hemi are both teamed with 5-speed automatic transmissions. Only a handful of years ago we’d have thought nothing of this. But when the Ford Fiesta gets a 6-speed auto, you know it’s time every new vehicle introduction at a higher price point should include a 6-speed.
Sales of the current Jeep Grand Cherokee trail the Wrangler by about 15,000 units through five months of 2010. Rest assured, Jeep loves how strongly the Wrangler is selling these days. But Chrysler would rest far more easily if only Grand Cherokee sales were 15,000 units ahead of the Wrangler’s current quantity. That appears possible for calendar year 2011; but not probable.