Feb. 25, 2013 at 1:10 PM ET
Chrysler is turning to an old name for a brand new Jeep. Say farewell to Liberty. The replacement model that will added to the line-up for 2014 will be rechristened the Jeep Cherokee, reviving a nameplate that helped kick off one of the most dramatic transformations in modern automotive history.
Jeepisn’t saying much beyond describing the 2014 Cherokee as an “all-new, ‘no-compromise’” vehicle that will set “a new standard with even more best-in-class capability, exemplary on-road driving dynamics, and fuel economy improvements of more than 45% versus the outgoing mid-size SUV model.”
The new mid-size sport-utility vehicle will make its formal debut at the upcoming New York Auto Show. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee will be assembled at Chrysler’s big Toledo Assembly Plant a half-hour south of Detroit, the same factory that produced the old Jeep Liberty.
A quick look at the styling suggests the automaker wanted a more modern and distinctive look, with design cues clearly borrowing from the Jeep brand’s flagship sport-utility model. But this is more than just a “baby” Grand Cherokee.
(For a look at some spy shots of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, Click Here.)
Observers and company insiders alike say Jeep is taking a risky approach with the front end, in particular, which features a folded take on the brand’s familiar, 7-slot grille, as well as distinctive split headlight and foglamps.
Company officials have hinted that the new model will focus less on the traditional, go-anywhere capabilities associated with Jeep products, putting more emphasis on the on-road ride and comfort that today’s ute buyers prefer.
The old Liberty model was a “niche part” of an SUV market that has “moved on” from its original focus on off-roading, said Mike Manley, CEO of the Jeep brand.
The Jeep marque was a major factor in the explosive growth of the sport-utility segment during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the launch of the original Cherokee in 1974 creating a surge in demand as U.S. buyers looked for more enticing alternatives to their traditional sedans and wagons.
The early version – which remained in production through 2001 – also helped introduce the concept of four-wheel-drive to a more mainstream audience. Today’s newest all-wheel-drive systems are becoming increasingly common on conventional sedans and even sports cars, as well as SUVs.
And on the car-based crossover-utility vehicles that have largely supplanted more traditional, truck-based sport-utes. CUVs often sacrifice the off-road capabilities in favor of better on-road manners and improved fuel economy. But the unibody design of the big Jeep Grand Cherokee shows that it is possible to meld off- and on-road capabilities in one vehicle.
The new 2014 Jeep Cherokee is being seen as a critical part of the brand’s global growth plans. Long focused on the North American market, Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has declared the Jeep brand one of a handful of marques that will be sold worldwide.
The reborn Cherokee will likely play a critical part of that, along with the latest updated of the Jeep Patriot and Compass models and an even smaller crossover that the maker plans to produce in Italy. The Grand Cherokee is also getting an early mid-cycle update for 2014, along with the addition of a new, high-mileage diesel engine.
But Jeep isn’t focusing only on downsized models. The marque also is rumored to be developing a larger ute that could bring back another once-popular nameplate, that of the old Grand Wagoneer.
With the addition of the Liberty and the Compass and Patriot updates, CEO Marchionne is hoping to boost Jeep sales to around 800,000 by 2014, up from 701,626 in 2012 – which was the brand’s best year ever.
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