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Published: Tuesday, 10/22/2013 - Updated: 12 months ago

SUV DELIVERIES BACK ON TRACK

Jeep Cherokees begin shipping after delays

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Shipments of the new Jeep Cherokee began Tuesday after multiple delays. Dealers have high hopes for strong consumer interest in the sport utility vehicle, which Chrysler needs to perform well to bolster sales numbers in the sector. Shipments of the new Jeep Cherokee began Tuesday after multiple delays. Dealers have high hopes for strong consumer interest in the sport utility vehicle, which Chrysler needs to perform well to bolster sales numbers in the sector.
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At long last, Jeep Cherokees are on their way.

Chrysler began shipping the new Toledo-built sport utility vehicles to dealers on Tuesday, finally releasing an eagerly awaited vehicle that has been plagued by delays, the most recent over concerns from the company about the calibration of the transmission.

“I’m hoping like heck we get one here before we close tonight,” Denny Amrhein said Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Amrhein, managing partner at Grogan’s Towne Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Toledo, figures his dealership will sell 20 to 25 Cherokees a month — more than twice the volume of the vehicle’s predecessor. He’s already sold a couple on preorders, and said customers are eager to see the vehicle in person.

The pace of deliveries, or whether all Cherokees are ready to ship wasn’t known.

A Chrysler spokesman who confirmed that the automaker was beginning its shipments Tuesday declined to comment further.

A significant departure from Jeeps of yore, the new Cherokee generated a lot of buzz when it was officially unveiled in March at the New York International Auto Show. The replacement for the Jeep Liberty, the Cherokee was hailed as sleeker and more carlike, boasted a more posh interior, and promised much better fuel economy.

But multiple delays besieged the Cherokee. First, issues with fit and finish pushed the start of full-scale production back by a month. Then word came out that Chrysler was still tinkering with the Jeep’s new nine-speed transmission. The issue seemed to be not within the transmission itself, but with the software that controlled how and when the unit swapped gears.

Chrysler officials said they just needed to reprogram the transmission’s control units, a simple but time-consuming task. Union sources said Chrysler had gone as far as individually test driving every Cherokee to make sure the fix was working properly.

Finished Cherokees were held back from dealers even as production continued to hum away at the Toledo Assembly Complex. The company vowed not to release any vehicles until engineers were satisfied everything was working exactly as it was supposed to.

“I think we lost a little excitement over it,” Mr. Amrhein said, “but once they land, I think that excitement will come back.”

While dealers haven’t been thrilled about the delay, they say they’d rather ask customers to be patient than have to respond to complaints.

“Any delay was going to be a disappointment, but it’s more important the product is completely right,” said Doug Kearns, general manager of Yark Automotive Group, which includes a Jeep dealership in Sylvania Township.

And most analysts believed it was the right call by the automaker.

“Chrysler had a lot of knocks for quality in the past. To move forward in this environment in the future, it’s important to get it right,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds.com.

Ms. Caldwell said Chrysler Group LLC, along with General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., often would release vehicles that were still rough around the edges and figure on dealing with problems later.

“That was the attitude in the past, and I think that’s why consumers had a negative attitude on some of these companies,” she said.

With Chrysler being so meticulous with the Cherokee, Ms. Caldwell isn’t worried the vehicle is going to be plagued with problems.

For Chrysler’s success, there had better not be. The delays likely have already hurt the automaker’s third-quarter earnings. And without an entrant in the small crossover segment, Jeep sales have dipped 3 percent below last year’s levels through September.

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



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