As sales of the Jeep Cherokee get under way in China, company officials are confident the newest vehicle in Jeep’s lineup will be received well there.
“I think Cherokee will play incredibly well, not just because I think the styling will be well received by the Chinese, but the technology we have in that vehicle, and the way that it handles,” Jeep Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley told The Blade last month. “And of course, it’s a Jeep.”
Though Jeep’s heritage is uniquely American, its future looks to be quite cosmopolitan.
Of all the brands in Chrysler Group LLC’s bag, Jeep stands shoulders above the others in its international appeal. That’s especially true in China, which is the world’s largest automotive market.
“I've often said, in China our brand awareness runs way ahead of our vehicle sales,” Mr. Manley said.
Want some proof? Visit any one of the 250-plus stand-alone Jeep-brand retail stores in China.
“The stores we’re talking about are very high-end stores. You couldn't build a store network like that without consumer pull,” Mr. Manley said.
Officials say there are hundreds more Jeep stores inside larger retailers.
The stores sell a variety of clothing, accessories, and serious outdoor gear — sort of what you’d imagine if Eddie Bauer had been an SUV instead of a person.
The stores even added a “J is For Jeep” line of children's clothing recently.
“I think from the size of our retail network, talking about the clothing stories, it indicates just how much they like our brand,” Mr. Manley said.
Sales of Jeep vehicles in China were up 29 percent last year to 59,536. With the addition of Cherokee, Chinese buyers will have the same full vehicle lineup that American buyers have.
According to data from Chrysler, the Jeep brand accounted for 73 percent of Chrysler’s total sales in China in 2012.
The company says China is Chrysler Group’s strongest individual international market.
Still, Chrysler has a long way to go to catch up with rivals such as General Motors, which sold almost 3.2 million vehicles in China last year.
Chrysler ships all Wrangler and Cherokees sold in China to the country from its plant in Toledo, but company leaders have said they plan to eventually build a version of the Cherokee at a joint venture plant in that country.
Wranglers will continue to be imported from Toledo.
The Chinese auto market has expanded rapidly, going from sales of fewer than 9 million vehicles in 2007 to more than 20 million vehicles last year. In spite of that, Mr. Manley — who doubles as Chrysler’s chief operating officer for Asia Pacific — said buyers there are quite sophisticated.
“They live in the most competitive automotive industry in the world,” he said. “There are more brands in China than any other market. Because of that they see a lot of innovation, so they're very savvy car buyers.”