One option is the new Grand Wagoneer flagship, due in 2018, which was all but ruled out for Australia but is now on the agenda thanks to solid local sales growth.
“It may be right-hand drive but today it’s not,” said Jeep president and chief executive Mike Manley said from the floor of the Detroit motor show. “We’re at the stage where we have to make the final decision in terms of right- and left-hand drive.”
He said Jeep’s solid growth in Australia – sales grew 37 percent in 2014 to propel the brand to 12th place on the list of top sellers – was a catalyst for putting the Grand Wagoneer back on the agenda for right-hand-drive markets such as Australia.
“We have performed well in the Australian market. That’s helped all right-hand-drive markets … that has a big impact on any future investment plan.
“The vehicle at the top of the range, in the same way as Wrangler is an icon … is very important in terms of how it establishes your brand.”
Manley said it would come down to crunching numbers to create a business case for the expensive engineering required to sit the steering wheel on the right.
Even without the Grand Wagoneer, Manley said there would likely be another seven-seat option, possibly the next generation Jeep Grand Cherokee due in 2017.
“A number of other competitors have three-row, seven-seat vehicles. Certainly it’s an option for us to look at a three-row vehicle outside Grand Wagoneer,” he said. “There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be available for Australia.”
Manley said it was all about maintaining the sales momentum with the possibility of cementing Jeep as a top 10 brand in Australia.
Jeep’s 2014 growth came with just five models and one, the Grand Cherokee, accounts for more than half of Australian sales. The Grand Cherokee is the 14th best-selling model (of about 350) and the fourth best-selling SUV (of almost 100).
In 2015 Jeep will release the Renegade that will slot in as an entry level model to take advantage of growth in the fast-growing small SUV segment.
Manley said Jeep was working to improve its disappointing recall record, which involved 14 recalls in 2014 – 11 of them for the Grand Cherokee.
“We’ve taken a number of steps to address the things that are addressable in terms of the way that we handle our customers,” said Manley. “Our job is to try and produce the best quality vehicle that we can but when there is an issue make sure we deal with that situation the best we can.”