DETROIT — Jeep is beginning to ship the 2014 Cherokee to international markets as the automaker eyes a big sales boost for the year.
Though the vehicle went on sale in late October in the United States and has reached some smaller Latin American markets, the company is at the very beginning of global sales, Jeep’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley told The Blade on Tuesday in an interview at the North American International Auto Show.
“I’ve got quite a number of them on boats at the moment,” Mr. Manley said. “They’re on the way to China, and later on this quarter they’ll be on their way to Europe.”
Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne said this week Jeep can sell 1 million vehicles globally in 2014.
Mr. Manley was a bit more reserved, but still anticipates a major gain from 2013. He said the official target is 800,000 Jeeps this year.
“If we don’t significantly beat that number I’ll be very, very disappointed,” he said. “How close we can get to 1 million units, we’ll see. We’re going to push as hard as we can.”
Jeep sold 731,565 vehicles last year, despite having a big hole in its lineup for most of the year.
Mr. Manley said he was pleased with the first two months of sales for the Cherokee, which is built at Chrysler Group’s Toledo Assembly Complex.
Sales figures have been strong, and Jeep says buyers have been tilting toward premium models.
That isn’t unusual for a new vehicle.
Mr. Manley’s hope, however, is that the Cherokee follows the trend of its big brother, the Grand Cherokee, which kicked off skewing premium and has stayed there.
There isn’t enough data to get any sense of who is buying the vehicle from a demographic standpoint.
Still, it’s too early to declare any sort of victory for Cherokee.
“I still think there’s a lot of work for us to do to communicate the attributes of that vehicle in the marketplace,” Mr. Manley said. “We’ve got some great marketing plans that are in place now that will continue to build as we get into 2014.”
For now, the Toledo Assembly Complex is the only place the Cherokee is built.
However, Chrysler Group continues to move forward with plans to add Jeep production in China and in Brazil.
Jeep produces the Wrangler and Cherokee in Toledo, the Grand Cherokee in Detroit, and the Patriot and Compass at a plant in Illinois.
Jeep plans to introduce a smaller sport utility vehicle to the U.S. market late this year or early next year that will be built in Italy.
Outside of that, officials have not said what models they plan to build outside North America, though leadership has been firm that the Wrangler will not be produced outside of Toledo.
“We haven’t announced what vehicles that we have plans to build elsewhere. What we’ve said is we need to localize in China. We need to localize within Brazil if we can. And then at that time, when those plans are finalized we’ll talk about the vehicles,” Mr. Manley said.
He concedes, however, that the Cherokee is an obvious candidate.
Whatever is built in China will be for that market and will not be exported to the United States, he said.
Chrysler Group has an agreement with a Chinese company for a joint venture in that country, but has had difficulty getting production off the ground.
Even if the Cherokee is also built elsewhere, Mr. Manley said the effort would unlikely have an effect on Toledo.
“When we think about how that vehicle should perform in the marketplace, I don’t think localization elsewhere would detract from the work and the capacity we put into Toledo,” he said.
Right now the Toledo plant is about as busy as it can be, especially on the Wrangler side. Company officials have heaped praise on the Toledo work force this week for its ability to keep boosting Wrangler output.
Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, which represents workers in the plant, was grateful for the praise.
“They’re working their butts off over there, and it’s nice to have somebody recognize their efforts,” he said. “And they’ve been recognized for generations.”
Mr. Baumhower noted that when Lee Iacocca was CEO of Chrysler, he awarded Toledo’s Jeep plant the Chairman’s Award for five years running.
“It’s a cultural thing that’s been created for generations over there and it’s a fun thing to be a part of,” he said.
Though the Cherokee line could add a third shift, the Wrangler line is at capacity.
“When you’re at the limit the way that we are, to significantly break that is a structural change,” Mr. Manley said. “At this moment in time, we’re obviously looking at what that may be, how that may be facilitated, but it’s a challenging question to answer. And at this moment in time I have no solution to it.”
Earlier in the week Mr. Marchionne said investing in the Toledo plant was something the company would have to consider.
Mr. Baumhower said he hasn’t been part of discussions about an expansion. He did say that to do so, the plant likely would need more real estate and added that he believes there are ways to do that.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at email@example.com or 419-724-6134.