The premium, full-size Jeep Grand Wagoneer is an SUV that will appeal to Canadian buyers and fill a gap in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) lineup when it reaches the market in mid-2021, dealers, analysts and company executives say.
The Grand Wagoneer’s understated look reflects Canadians’ humble, no-nonsense values, Ralph Gilles, FCA’s head of global design, said during a recent media briefing on the vehicle.
“Honestly, I think Canadians have good taste,” said Gilles, who was born in New York City but grew up in Montreal. “They’re very humble people, for the most part. The design was meant to be understated and really look good for years and years to come.
“That speaks to Canadian values ... straightforward, no-nonsense, just a damn well-built machine,” he said, adding that the 4x4 capability is a strong draw in Canada.
Jeep has not announced pricing for its new three-row SUV, but Chris Meunier, global president of the Jeep Brand, has said its sibling Wagoneer, a lower trim-version of the vehicle, will start around US $60,000, while a fully loaded Grand Wagoneer will exceed US $100,000.
Canadian buyers’ preferences are nuanced, said auto analyst Sam Fiorani, head of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions. Canadians tend to value a vehicle’s utility more than Americans do, so the Grand Wagoneer should fare well in this country, he said.
AT LAST, PREMIUM PRODUCT
Jeep dealers interviewed by Automotive News Canada agree.
Logan Murray, general sales manager for Murray Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, in Okotoks, Alta., said the Wagoneer will fill a gap in FCA’s product lineup: a luxurious seven-passenger SUV that can compete with the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition and, in the Grand Wagoneer trim level, even the Cadillac Escalade.
“We don’t have anything in that segment,” said Murray, whose dealership is part of the 35-rooftop Murray Auto Group.
“We have the [Dodge] Durango, but it just doesn’t compete. It doesn’t attract enough buyers. It’s too expensive for what it is.”
Rob Coleman, general manager of Big 4 Motors Ltd. in Calgary, said the Wagoneer adds a “marquee brand” that has been missing since the old model was discontinued in 1991.
“This will be an elegant Jeep. We need to have an elegant level. I think the interior will be a new level for an SUV.”
Fiorani said FCA is smart to offer a premium Jeep because they tend to have high profit margins.
Noting that Cadillac, Lincoln and Land Rover are doing “just fine” in the high-end SUV market, Fiorani said Jeep might find only a small number of buyers willing to pay $100,000, but $70,000 to $80,000 is a more likely sweet spot.
SOMETHING OLD, EVERYTHING NEW
The Wagoneer represents a dramatic new direction for the Jeep brand, which has built its name on its off-road chops. Jim Morrison, head of the Jeep brand in North America, said it’s a return to the philosophy that drove the first-generation Wagoneer.
When the new concept vehicle was unveiled in late August, company executives said the production versions will have a plug-in hybrid as one of the powertrain options. The full range has not been released, but an FCA spokesman told Automotive News Canada that there will be short- and long-wheelbase versions of both the Wagoneer and the Grand Wagoneer. Both are based on the Ram 1500 pickup platform.
“The Wagoneer signifies incremental space for Jeep,” said Morrison, “a new arm of luxury where we can experiment with a flagship type of dynamic, where we can do things that we probably couldn’t justify on a regular Jeep.”
RESPECTFUL, NOT RETRO
The Grand Wagoneer was considered the first luxury SUV when it debuted under the ownership of American Motors Corp. in 1984.
In his book entitled Jeep, Minnesota-based automotive writer Steve Stathem wrote that the Wagoneer’s luxury made it unique. Its utility was combined with luxury features such as 15-inch alloy wheels, premium AM/ FM/cassette audio, air conditioning, power front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather seat surfaces.
The new Wagoneer pays homage to the old model but is modern in both style and function, said Meunier.
“We didn’t go the retro route.
“People asked: ‘Why didn’t you give us the fake wood on the panels?”
But the expectations of the premium customer in the large-SUV segment are very different from what they were in 1970, he said, adding that the aim was to translate what was leading edge 50 years ago into the equivalent today.
Production of the Grand Wagoneer and Wagoneer will start in the second quarter of 2021 at FCA’s Warren, Mich., truck plant in suburban Detroit.