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3 vehicles latest, not necessarily last, in the future of Jeep brand

CEO hints other ideas could be under the hood

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    Jeep CEO Mike Manley wouldn’t elaborate at the Detroit auto show over further expansion for Jeep, but analysts say the brand could benefit from the maturing and more-segmented market for crossovers and hybrids.

    THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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    The 2017 Jeep Wrangler Winter during the media preview for the 2017 North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

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    The 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland on display.

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DETROIT — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will add three new vehicles to the Jeep lineup by 2020, giving the brand its broadest offering in years. But one key official said the company may not be finished when it comes to expanding Jeep.

Asked by The Blade whether the brand’s lineup will be complete once the Jeep rolls out its Wrangler pickup, full-size Wagoneer, and luxury Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley said not necessarily.

“Segments continue to develop, opportunities continue to emerge. There are a number of other things I’d like to do with the portfolio in coming years,” he said Tuesday during an interview on the floor of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “We’re now fulfilling some of the promises that were made a few years ago to our customers — to look harder at pickup, bring back Grand Wagoneer [and] Wagoneer, and I’m really delighted we’re able to confirm that’s happening. But that by no means says your portfolio is full.”

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He declined to elaborate on his thoughts for expanding the brand, though analysts say there may be room for more Jeeps as the market for crossovers and sport utility vehicles matures and becomes more segmented.

Though no redesigned Jeeps are being shown in Detroit, the company has been busy. It unveiled a new Compass in November and recently completed development of the next-generation Wrangler that will launch in Toledo late this year at the company’s Toledo Assembly Complex, where all Wranglers sold worldwide are built. 

The pickup will be built alongside the Wrangler.

Mr. Manley disclosed no details of the new Wrangler except to say it will offer buyers a number of powertrain options. Currently, all Wranglers get the company’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rates the a combined 18 miles per gallon.

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“One of the things we’ve really worked hard on is fuel economy, but most importantly maintaining and improving the vehicle’s capability, so we’re going to offer a range of powertrains,” Mr. Manley said.

Speaking generally, Mr. Manley said future Jeeps will likely receive more smaller engines and, eventually, electrification.

Mr. Manley said his team is also working on a limited run special edition as a way to send off the current Wrangler.

“I think one of the things we’ve proved with Wrangler is that the vehicle can to some extent be a canvas, and we’ve really worked hard with our customers to try and develop limited run special editions to celebrate what Wrangler stands for,” Mr. Manley said. “I think it would be remiss of us not to do that with this generation Wrangler.”

Jeep sold 1.4 million vehicles globally last year, up about 12 percent from 2015. And though the pace of U.S. sales growth slowed, Jeep’s international performance accelerated. Fiat Chrysler didn’t provide exact sales figures, but based on the company’s rounded numbers, international growth was about 27 percent last year. International sales grew 14 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Wrangler sales fell back a bit in the United States after a record 2015, though analysts say part of that could be because some buyers are waiting for the new model.

Though Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested to media members on Monday that the Wrangler was perhaps most likely to be shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Mr. Manley was less committal on Tuesday.

“We’re working on what we think is going to be the best place to show it. It may not be an auto show, it may be an auto show,” he said.

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

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