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Automotive

First Cherokee orders go in

But actual deliveries to dealers unlikely until mid-September

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A Jeep Cherokee is driven off the line at the Toledo plant. Data show the factory built 882 Cherokees in June and 2,207 in July.

THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
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Jeep dealers were able to place their first orders for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee on Friday, moving one step closer to the highly anticipated vehicle’s showroom debut.

However, it will likely be at least mid-September before dealerships start getting their shipments in from Chrysler. Dealers say that’s a day that that can’t come soon enough.

“The dealers are just screaming for them because inventories are so light on so many other Jeep lines. We really, really need them,” said Ralph Mahalak, Jr., who owns the Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Superstore in Monroe.

Mr. Mahalak also has dealerships in Ohio and Florida. He said each of his stores has an initial allotment of between five and 10 Cherokees.

“I think it’s going to be one of the better launches we’ve had in quite some time,” he said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand and a lot of excitement on this thing.”

Doug Kearns, general manager of Yark Automotive Group in Sylvania Township, which includes a Jeep dealership, said Friday that he was excited to be able to put in his first orders.

“We’ve got several customer orders that are ready to go in,” he said. “We’ve got a couple local TV stations waiting to put in orders. It’s kind of a momentous occasion.”

Production of retail Cherokees began June 24 after a 10-month shutdown to build a new assembly line from scratch inside Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly Complex. Data released by Chrysler earlier this week show the factory built 882 Cherokees in June and 2,207 in July.

But the automaker has not as yet begun shipping vehicles from the plant. Top company officials said last week that engineers are working to tweak the programming of the transmission in the Cherokee, making it necessary to update the programming in all the vehicles that already have come off the line.

Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said on a conference call last week that it wasn’t a reason to panic, and that it’s merely evidence of a complex launch that Chrysler wants to ensure goes exactly right.

Mr. Marchionne said dealers would begin getting some vehicles in September, with higher volumes coming the following month. Dealers say they’re hoping to get vehicles by the middle of next month, but think it could be late September before they arrive.

Most long ago exhausted their supply of the Jeep Liberty, which Chrysler stopped building nearly a year ago. For dealers, it’s been an impatient wait to get its replacement in the Cherokee.

“I think everyone’s excited. The sooner the better,” Mr. Kearns said. “When you look at the Jeep numbers in particular, we need the product to fill the hole in a pretty big segment. Since Liberty was sold out, we didn’t have anything to compete.”

The Cherokee comes in four trim packages: Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk, which is a special, off-road oriented package. A base Sport with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder starts at about $24,000 including destination charges. A six-cylinder engine is available on the three higher trim levels for an extra $1,500. A fully loaded Trailhawk will top out at more than $41,000.

Potential customers can now see pricing for different options and configure their own vehicles on Jeep's Web site, Jeep.com.

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

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