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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Cherokee production under way in Toledo

New Jeep expected in showrooms in August

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
AP Enlarge

CHELSEA, Mich. — Normal production of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is under way in Toledo and the vehicle should begin showing up in showrooms in late August, Chrysler officials said Friday.

Workers at the Toledo Assembly Complex had been building pilot models of the all-new Jeep for some time. Those vehicles, meant to test the plant’s tooling and the model’s engineering, won’t be sold to the public.

Chrysler said Friday that production of salable Jeeps began this week.

Early this year, Chrysler officials said normal production would begin May 23, but sources said several issues pushed back that date. With production starting this week, Chrysler is about a month behind in launching the vehicle.

However, company officials still say the vehicle remains on track to be in dealerships within the originally planned time frame. From the start, Chrysler has said the Cherokee would go on sale in the year’s third quarter. As long as buyers can get their hands on the all-new Jeep by Sept. 30, Chrysler will meet that promise.

Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group LLC, said the automaker expected to begin selling Cherokees in late August or early September.

“That’s pretty much what we said a year ago and we’re still in that range,” Mr. Bigland said at a media event at Chrysler’s Chelsea proving grounds. “Clearly the vehicle can’t come soon enough. It’s a huge segment.”

The Cherokee will slide into the heart of Jeep’s lineup, replacing the Liberty, a vehicle that has been out of production for nearly a year. Not having an entrant into the midsize sport utility vehicle segment — one of the largest segments in the United States — has been difficult for Chrysler.

“Every month right now, we’re overcoming about a 7,000-unit deficit at Jeep for what we sold last year at this time with the Liberty, and we’ve been for all intents and purposes out of Liberty this year,” Mr. Bigland said. “The minute this thing starts hitting, it’s going to give us an immediate boost for our sales.”

Even without the Liberty or its replacement, the Jeep brand squeezed out a 1 percent year-over-year sales gain through May, largely on the successes of the Patriot and Compass.

Across the company, sales were up 9 percent through May. Mr. Bigland expects Chrysler to post a 39th consecutive month of year-over-year U.S. sales gains for June when automakers report this month’s sales on Tuesday.

The more carlike Cherokee represents a bit of a new direction for Jeep as it attempts to lure in more mainstream buyers with contemporary — if not slightly controversial — styling and better fuel economy. Chrysler says the Cherokee should turn in up to 31 miles per gallon highway. The best the Liberty, with all the aerodynamics of a house, could muster was 22 mpg.

To help with that, the Cherokee also will be Chrysler Group’s first vehicle to get a new nine-speed automatic transmission.

Jeep says the front-wheel drive Cherokee will start at $23,990, including destination charge. Four-wheel drive versions will start at $25,990, including destination charge.

The Detroit Free Press reported that Mike Manley, Jeep brand chief executive officer, said he expects Chrysler to eventually sell 150,000 Cherokees in the United States, which would double the number of Libertys sold in 2012, the model’s last full year.

One forecasting analyst previously told The Blade he expected Cherokee sales to be in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 vehicles per year in the United States.

Mr. Bigland said there’s a lot of anticipation and optimism about the Cherokee from the brand’s dealers.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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