DETROIT -- Apparently, the Jeep Wrangler is rugged and capable of hauling an entire division out of the swamp.
The popular two- and four-door sport utility is coming off its best-ever May while buoying a slumping Jeep division beset by declining sales.
According to Autodata Corp., Jeep sold 12,332 Wranglers in May, up 114 percent compared to the same month last year. For the year, 54,699 Wranglers have been sold, an 85 percent increase compared to last year.
Strong Wrangler sales also helped fuel an overall 20 percent May sales increase for Jeep and a 12 percent year-to-date increase compared to last year.
"The Jeep Wrangler is the icon of the brand," said Chrysler Group spokesman Markus Mainka, adding that no incentives have been offered since the vehicle was redesigned and released last September from a retooled Toledo, Ohio, plant.
Based on Autodata figures, the Wrangler accounted for about 29 percent of Jeep's total May vehicle sales and 27 percent of the division's 2007 sales to date. Wrangler's strong showing last month also boosted the Chrysler Group division's market share of U.S. light vehicles from 2.4 percent to 2.7 percent last month.
For 2007, Jeep's market share increased from 2.6 percent to 3.0 percent.
Industry analyst Alex Rosten said redesigning the Wrangler was the key to Jeep's recent success.
"Now they can't make enough of them," said Rosten, an analyst for EdmundsObserver.com. "It's always better to expand existing product lines than create a new one."
But the Wrangler's success contrasts with slumping sales for other Jeep products.
According to Autodata, every other Jeep vehicle for which comparative statistics were available posted negative marks, led by the Liberty's 39 percent sales decline compared with May 2006, and its 28 percent year-to-date decline compared to last year.
Grand Cherokee sales fell 18 percent in May and 20 percent for the year to date, while Jeep Commander sales fell 9.7 percent in May and 10 percent so far this year.
According to Jeep officials, May sales for the Compass totaled 3,735, while 4,505 Patriots were sold. In 2007, Jeep has sold 18,812 Compass models and 10,336 Patriots. Both vehicles are in their first year of production.
"We develop each vehicle to appeal to a different kind of customer," said Chrysler spokesman Dan Bodene.
He said introducing the Compass and Patriot was an attempt to enter new markets by leveraging the company's recognizable nameplate. Bodene said Jeep will work harder to deliver the message about its core products and may offer new incentives.
Rosten said that might not be enough. He said the Grand Cherokee is "too old," while new models like the Compass and Patriot are "too redundant."
"Jeep has shot itself in the foot by releasing the Patriot and the Compass," he said. "By doing so, they have cannibalized other products, like the Liberty."
On Tuesday, Jeep canceled its scheduled announcement of a new advertising campaign developed by Cutwater, a San Francisco-based advertising agency. Chrysler officials said the postponement until later this week was due to a scheduling conflict and had nothing to do with recently released sales numbers.
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