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It's An American Brand: Jeep Concepts Revealed In Europe

The “official” wraps were removed from two Jeep concept vehicles at the 61st International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt this past September, the Jeep Patriot and the Jeep Compass, both of which are described as being “directionally” where the brand is headed as it works to expand its portfolio beyond the four vehicles that presently make up its showroom (Commander, Grand Cherokee, Liberty, Wrangler). A better way of thinking about this—one that is closer to what will undoubtedly occur sometime in ’06—is that the Patriot and the Compass will be rolling out of the Belvidere Assembly Plant (located in northern Illinois; the heretofore home of the Neon), which is undergoing a $419-million refurbishment, ostensibly in preparation for the Dodge Caliber.

The “official” wraps were removed from two Jeep concept vehicles at the 61st International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt this past September, the Jeep Patriot and the Jeep Compass, both of which are described as being “directionally” where the brand is headed as it works to expand its portfolio beyond the four vehicles that presently make up its showroom (Commander, Grand Cherokee, Liberty, Wrangler). A better way of thinking about this—one that is closer to what will undoubtedly occur sometime in ’06—is that the Patriot and the Compass will be rolling out of the Belvidere Assembly Plant (located in northern Illinois; the heretofore home of the Neon), which is undergoing a $419-million refurbishment, ostensibly in preparation for the Dodge Caliber. Does anyone actually think that a company that is dedicated to building flexibility into its assembly plants is going to make just one vehicle in a given plant? So the potential of the Patriot and Compass is better than average.

One of the rationales for showing the vehicles at IAA is undoubtedly that the vehicles are capable of being fitted with a 2.0-liter diesel engine, the type of engine that so far resonates Over There in far greater numbers than Over Here (although Jeep offers the Liberty CRD, which is fitted with a 2.8-liter, four-cylinder common-rail diesel, a vehicle that, Jeff Bell, vice president, Chrysler/Jeep, said is selling quite well in the U.S. market, exceeding the company’s initial expectations). But other parts of it are that the Chrysler Group is looking to increase its sales footprint in Europe and in other parts of the world (the Jeeps were revealed by Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda on September 12; two days later LaSorda and his team were in Taiwan, in Fuzhou on the mainland the following day, and in Beijing on the 16th).

Trail Mates
Wheelbase:
Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height:
Front overhang:
Rear overhang:
Front track:
Rear track:
Couple (1-2):
Front tire:

Rear tire:
Patriot
103.7 in.
173.7 in.
69.1 in.
65.6 in.
34.7 in.
35.1 in.
59.8 in.
59.8 in.
32.5 in.
235/65R17,
17 x 6.5 in.
235/65R17,
17 x 6.5 in.
Compass
103.7 in.
173.4 in.
69.3 in.
63.3 in.
34.5 in.
35.1 in.
59.8 in.
59.8 in.
32.5 in.
255/50R19, 
19 x 7.5 in.
255/50R19, 
19 x 7.5 in.

Without question, the designs of the Patriot and the Compass are quintessentially Jeep, and that’s not just because of the famous seven-slot grille. Rather, in the case of the Patriot, the vehicle is characterized by strong geometric shapes with the geometric pallet consisting of, primarily, slightly modified rectangles (OK: the headlamps are Jeep-round). There is no mistaking the vehicle for being anything other than a Jeep. The case of the Compass is somewhat more problematic (or will be for the “square-is-better” faction of Jeep aficionados) in that while the front end is immediately Jeep (grille; headlamps), the side view shows an A-pillar that arcs way back (at least in the context of a Jeep; we’re not talking Charger here) and the rear has a hatch that is more like the back of the forthcoming Caliber than, say, the brand-mate Commander. This is described by Trevor Creed, senior vice president—Chrysler Group Design, as “an all-new kind of Jeep,” which is certainly an entry into the “Understatement of the Year Award.” Think “rally car” not “Rubicon Trail.” (Whether or not the Compass would be badged “Trail Rated” remains to be seen—as, admittedly, does a production version of the vehicle—but one could anticipate that the vehicle will have four powered wheels but not necessarily the kind of articulating suspension that’s engineered to swallow boulders—at least not in volume units.)

During a discussion with Creed at Frankfurt about global designs, he stated that the notion of “a world car” has proven itself to be “a complete failure.” The idea behind the “world car,” of course, was to be able to come up with something with universal appeal, or, as Creed put it, a “car that’s relatively bland that’s going to appeal to everyone.” Homogenized. It didn’t work.

“We are an American company, and very proud of it,” he stated. “We have very American products and we don’t do anything to make them Europeanized, other than to make them meet regulations, most of which are now common.” The evidence of the Jeeps certainly substantiated Creed’s statement.

But does he think that this American design will play well in places like Germany? Indeed. He makes several points. One is that in Europe, there is the opportunity to shop vehicles from other countries: Peugeots and Citroëns and Fiats and Audis, etc., as well as from Asia and North America. What’s more, there are certain people there—as here—who are drawn to products from elsewhere. He noted, for example, that when you wander down a shopping street in Frankfurt, you are likely to find all manner of products from U.S.-based companies that have evident appeal. “With all of the brands they have here, why would they be buying Timberland shoes?”