JEEP’S fresh new Compass small SUV could be about to knock the longstanding favourite Grand Cherokee from its top sales spot, but the seven-slot grille brand’s CEO says building the company’s reputation back to prominence will take more than just appealing models.
From a sales highpoint in 2014 and 2015 when the Grand Cherokee was Australia’s best-selling large SUV, Jeep registrations have taken a slide. However a dramatically improved Jeep Compass now on sale in the increasingly-popular small-to-mid-sized SUV market has the potential to be the next cash cow.
Speaking at the local launch of the 2018 Compass, FCA Australia CEO and head of Jeep brand for the Asia-Pacific region Steve Zanlunghi said the company had “good aspirations” for the new model, which could take the top sales ranking.
“It could and I wouldn’t complain if it does,” he said. “As long as Grand Cherokee sales remain where they are or increase a little bit I’ll be happy, and if Compass can outsell it, happier days.
“I’m hopeful that it’s accepted in the Australian public and I think it will do well. When you compare the old Compass to the new one it’s night and day.”
If the new arrival does overtake the current Grand Cherokee, the Compass will top more than 300 monthly registrations (the Grand Cherokee’s current average), equating to about 3600 annually. If it improves on the Grand Cherokee’s 2017 total, more than 5300 will be delivered in 2018.
But Zanlunghi explained that the company had learnt from the boom and bust of three years ago and the company would not be pursuing rapid growth with spiking sales figures.
Instead, as part of a strategy that commenced with Zanlunghi’s arrival in mid-2016, his team was working hard to arrange the infrastructure that is critical to support increased but steady sales.
“We don’t want to take over the world,” he said. “We want controlled growth. We understand that if you grow too quickly and you grow out of control that bad things can happen. That’s what we saw happen from 2014 and 2015.
“Product is a key piece of any brand’s growth but the other piece is making sure you’ve got the infrastructure to take care of customers to give them confidence in the brand. If you look at what we did in 2017 we did a lot of that. We built the foundations.”
Those foundations include “putting the customer first, taking care of the customer, making sure our dealerships have the capacity to serve our customers”.
“The good news is that now we have the foundations laid there is a massive focus on customer experience… we’re set up for a pretty good year in 2018.”
Another element that could be added to the brand-building activity is a campaign to increase Jeep exposure to potential and existing customers, which could include drive days and pop-up stores.
“If there’s an opportunity to take the vehicles to the customers absolutely we will do it. That’s kind of what we have been doing with the Alfa Romeo brand as well. We’ve been taking it out, setting up pop-up stores around the country, premiere nights and customer events within our dealerships.
“I’d certainly look at it absolutely,” said Zanlunghi.
Unlike some other global regions, where many customers don’t fully understand the off-road ability of their Jeep, Zanlinghi said Australian customers have the opposite problem.
“What I found in other markets with the Jeep brand is when you show customers the actual capability of the cars that they’re driving it blows them away.
“Here in Australia we did some research last year and what we found was most Australian consumers know that a Jeep is capable but is it suitable to go to the shops?
“We know we have that awareness with the capability but we also want to make sure that our customers know that it is a good daily driver as well”.