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Published: Saturday, 11/2/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Cherokee revving up week after arrival

Jeep dealers still gauging interest, but 579 sell in October; Chrysler sales jump 11% over ’12

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Experts say it will take six months or more before Chrysler will know if the Cherokee is a hit with customers. Some new domestic cars are a hit initially but then fade. Experts say it will take six months or more before Chrysler will know if the Cherokee is a hit with customers. Some new domestic cars are a hit initially but then fade.
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Jeep dealers expect the new Cherokee to eventually become their top-selling model, though it will be several months before the industry is able to judge whether Chrysler Group LLC has the hit it thinks it does with the new sport utility vehicle.

Formally introduced to the public in March, the first Cherokees began arriving in U.S. showrooms last week. Officials have said it will take a couple more weeks to get the vehicles in volume to dealers across the country.

Even so, sales are starting to trickle in.

The automaker said Friday it sold 579 Cherokees in October.

THE 2014 JEEP CHEROKEE

Built: At Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly Complex

Price range: A base-model Sport with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder starts at about $24,000, including destination charges. A fully loaded Trailhawk will top out at more than $41,000.

Fuel mileage: Up to 31 miles per gallon highway

Trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk

Engine options: A 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 184 horsepower and a 3.2-liter V-6 with 271 horsepower

Transmission: New nine-speed automatic transmission standard

Yark Automotive Group said Chrysler told the dealership that Yark delivered the first Cherokee in the United States on Oct. 24. That’s fitting, as the Cherokee is built in Toledo. Yark has sold eight so far, sales manager Joe Papalexis said Friday.

Right now, the dealership has about 45 Cherokees on the lot or en route.

“There’s a good amount out there and there’s a good amount coming in,” Mr. Papalexis said. “It’s had good interest. I think the key thing was people being able to see the car and drive it first. It’s going to take more time for people to get the colors they want and options they want.”

The Cherokee’s launch was delayed for weeks as Chrysler tweaked, tested, and retested the vehicle’s new nine-speed transmission. Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales referenced that Friday in summarizing the month of October.

“After a choppy start to the beginning of the month, Chrysler Group sales accelerated in the second half of the month with renewed consumer confidence and the launch of our all-new Jeep Cherokee,” Reid Bigland said in a statement. “Following a meticulous focus on quality, our new Jeep Cherokee began shipping to dealers and quickly selling, which helped us to achieve our 43rd-consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases.”

Chrysler sales for the month were 140,083, up 11 percent from last year. Though the Cherokee provided a small bump, Chrysler was led by the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ram pickup.

The company hasn’t said how many Cherokees it expects to sell in the year’s last two months, though Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said earlier this week he expects to ship a record number of vehicles worldwide in the fourth quarter.

While most industry analysts have had positive things to say about the Cherokee, they aren’t the ones who make the purchases. It likely will take at least until the middle of next year to get a good grasp of how well the vehicle is accepted by consumers.

Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, said many vehicles from Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors have sold well out of the gate, only to falter once the newness wears off.

He called it domestic indoctrination syndrome.

“Any new vehicle that came out of the Detroit Big Three is hyped quite well, and there’s a lot of marketing dollars behind it. It does well for the first six months and then it becomes just sort of another model and gets lost in the shuffle,” he said.

Nothing Mr. Toprak has seen makes him believe the Cherokee will follow that track, but the first couple months’ sales are often driven by early adopters, brand loyalists, and enthusiasts — not the heart of the market at which Jeep has squarely aimed the Cherokee.

“That effect takes about a good six months to die down. Then you're going after mass market, and that’s where you truly can evaluate the performance of the vehicle,” he said.

With its stacked headlamps, the Cherokee’s styling is unlike its competitors. But dealers say the biggest way Jeep differentiates itself is by selling customers on the idea that should they wish to venture off the pavement — an unlikely event for most — they can.

“When properly equipped, it can do a lot of things that its competitors at Ford, Honda, and Toyota can’t do,” said Ralph Mahalak, Jr., who owns a Jeep franchise in Monroe.

His dealership there hasn’t yet received the off-road-ready Trailhawk version of the Cherokee, but he’s eager to get one and put it through the paces on the off-road course he built in 2001 to prove the Liberty’s bona fides.

“This thing can go off-road,” Mr. Mahalak said of the Cherokee.

It also received some recognition for safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Cherokee a “good” rating — the best there is — in each of the four categories in which it tests. That earned the Cherokee a “Top Safety Pick” from the organization.

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



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