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Published: Tuesday, 1/9/2001

Cherokee moniker not vanquished

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

DETROIT - The venerable Jeep Cherokee name will live on in most parts of the world even after production of the 17-year-old sport-utility vehicle ends in Toledo this summer.

DaimlerChrysler AG's U.S. unit will use the Cherokee name outside North America on the Jeep Liberty introduced Sunday during media previews of the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit. A new $750 million Chrysler Drive factory called Toledo North Assembly Plant will build all models of the existing Cherokee's successor sold worldwide after saleable production starts in the spring.

For markets outside North America, the decision to use “Cherokee” solved potential copyright problems associated with “Liberty” and capitalized on the name's equity, Daimler spokesman Rick Deneau said.

The name “Liberty” was chosen for the United States, Canadian, and Mexican markets as the automaker's Chrysler unit was making plans to keep the existing Cherokee and offer its eventual successor as a fourth Jeep in North America. But the Chrysler unit's new management decided to end Cherokee production by June, the end of its 2001 model year.

Chrysler officials said the Liberty name caught on in North America.

“The name tested higher even than Cherokee has with consumers,” Mr. Deneau said. “It speaks to freedom, and it really speaks to the Jeep brand name.”

Whatever the name, dealership managers said they look forward to having a new compact SUV offering even as they mourn the sooner-than-expected loss of the Toledo-built Cherokee announced last week. Jeep dealers this summer will meet the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and other competitors head on with the Liberty's ride-improving independent front suspension and various amenities.

“I think it looks great. We really needed it,” said Mark Campbell, general sales manager of Bowling Green Jeep. “It has all the new features everyone wants on it.”

The Liberty, expected to be priced in the low to mid-$20,000 range, will be on display at the Cobo Center auto show, which opens to the public Saturday and runs through Jan. 21.

Larry Patnoe, owner of Liberty Jeep Super Store in Rapid City, S.D., is pleased with the new Jeep's name. The dealership got its moniker after the previous owner ran a naming contest in 1981, he said.

“I'll get a lot of mileage out of it,” Mr. Patnoe said. “It goes along with Jeep real well.

“It's a nice looking vehicle. It will be the only one in its class that will be a true offroader.”

Among Liberty's assets are nice lines, a 3.7-liter V6 engine, and better headroom than the Cherokee, said Dave Doster, Jeep sales manager for Yark Automotive Group in Sylvania Township.

Yet much of the Liberty's competitive success after its initial sales debut will depend on how it is priced, Bowling Green's Mr. Campbell said.

Indeed, price may be the only hitch for the Liberty - and the Chrysler unit's profits from it - said Jim Mateyka, vice president in the global automotive consulting business of A.T. Kearney, Inc., of Southfield, Mich.

The Liberty offers many more features than the Cherokee, but pricing it at even $25,000 may be too much to be competitive, he said.

“That's the issue they'll have to deal with,” said Mr. Mateyka, adding that the Liberty lives up to the traditions of the Toledo-born brand.

“It's a logical extension of Jeep,” he said. “This is a real off-road vehicle.”



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