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This is Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne at the start of production of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee at the three-million square-foot Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit. As the first model to come from the company since its reorganization, it is a critical product for the company.

Strong, lean and athletic. Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design, thinks it is the "sexiest" body side ever to come out of the Jeep Studio. And to say that the vehicle is strong is not just to throw out a descriptive word. According to Phil Jansen, the chief engineer, the vehicle has a 146% increase in body stiffness compared with the previous model (thte 2011 has a static BIW torsion of 17,000 ft-lb/degree). (Copyright FPI Studios.)

Because they want the vehicle to have manners as well as capability, there is particular attention paid to the fit, finish, materials, textures and amenities in the Grand Cherokee. (Copyright FPI Studios.)

The standard engine for the Grand Cherokee is the 3.6-liter, 290-hp Pentastar V6, the first deployment of the engine built at the Chrysler Trenton South Engine Plant. This engine will have extensive use throughout Chrysler Group products. The optional engine is a 5.7-liter, 360-hp V8.

The vehicle has more than 5,400 welds in the body (the Grand Cherokee is produced at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit), which represents a 53% increase in spot welds and a 42% increase in arc welds. Additionally, the amount of structural adhesive is increased by 38%.

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Grace & Capability Under Pressure

Any new vehicle introduction is important. But few have the significance riding on them as the 2011 Grand Cherokee has on it. And the Jeep team delivers.

Because the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the first product to be designed, engineered and manufactured by Chrysler Group LLC—the post-bankruptcy company—there has been more than a small amount of effort applied in all areas to make sure that this is a superb vehicle in all respects. Consider: this is the Jeep Grand Cherokee and (1) of the assets of Chrysler, the Jeep brand is exceedingly valuable, so maintaining that value necessitates excellence in execution; (2) Jeep is the brand that will do much of the heavy lifting in markets beyond North America, which is important for the overall health of the company ("Jeep is one of our most important brands for global growth," said Mike Manley, Chrysler Group's lead executive for International Organization, which means that he is spearheading the company's activities beyond NAFTA. He also happens to be the president and CEO of Jeep Brand. The Grand Cherokee is sold in 100 countries, and in 2009 was the second highest-selling model of all Chrysler Group vehicles in international markets); (3) the full-size sport-utility segment—"a very, very important seg-ment," emphasizes Manley—represents about 8% of the total industry, so with a global number on the order of 1.6- to 1.8 million units, it is nothing to sniff at; (4) this is the Grand Cherokee, the flagship model in the lineup, so if they get this one right...

So, not surprisingly, a significant focus was placed on vehicle quality, both during development as well as during build at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) in Detroit. And a significant investment has been made at Chrysler on its Quality organization, having increased the size of staff from 200 to 1,500 people within a two-year period. Among the efforts made to assure the quality of the 2011 Grand Cherokee in particular:

  • 2.5-million miles worth of customer experience driving. This is one of the quality approaches it has adopted from Fiat, wherein the objective is to use the vehicle under conditions that are most like ordinary driving. Said Doug Betts, senior vice president, Quality, Chrysler Group, "Using the vehicle in the environment and in the way a customer will use it, similar to Fiat's approach, gives us a more complete understanding of potential issues with the vehicle. It's a good supplement to the extensive testing done in-house by Jeep and the company's Quality engineers." He is referring to:
  • 7.5-million customer-equivalent miles put on the vehicle during reliability and durability testing in scientific labs, its proving grounds, and public roads.
  • Benchmarking of 320 physical characteristics of best-in-class vehicles. This included acceleration, braking, seat comfort, storage space, fuel economy, and towing capability.
  • 250 hours of aerodynamic work in the company's wind tunnel in Auburn Hills to address wind noise and drag.
  • 3.3-million customer-equivalent miles on dynamometers for the all-new, flexible-fuel, 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 prior to production of the engine. This is the first application of the engine.
  • Implementation of the Fiat World Class Manufacturing program at JNAP, which included some 45,000 hours of training by the 1,500 workers in the plant. (The number of workers since start of production in May has been increased to some 2,800, as a second shift was added in July.) Employees have submitted over 2,500 suggestions on how to further improve processes at JNAP.

Yes, they're made this seriously good. 

One of the more interesting aspects of the 2011 Grand Cherokee is implied by a comment made by Jim Morrison, head of Jeep product marketing: "100% of Jeep Grand Cherokee owners take their vehicles off road. Most just do it in their minds."

So there are two things that have to be achieved. One is to have the off-road capability that is synonymous with the brand. The other is to take into account the practical realities of urban/suburban life. It is where Moab meets the mall.

Arguably, the key technology that allows these very different things to be realized is the Quadra-Lift air suspension system. Phil Jansen, chief engineer for the vehicle, described it as a "closed-end design," meaning that the four-corner air springs are powered by a compressor that uses air that is contained in a reservoir, not taken from the outside environment. The Quadra-Lift system provides five height settings to handle varying circumstances. The system works automatically or can be manually controlled.

There is Normal Ride Height (NRH), which is 8.1-in. of ground clearance, said to be good for both on- and-off-road driving. But because this is a Jeep, good enough isn't. So there is the Off-Road 1 setting, which pumps it up by an additional 1.3 in., to provide 9.4 in. of clearance. And there is even Off-Road 2, which brings it to 10.7 in. of ground clearance. However, there is the consi-deration of the times when someone isn't trying to climb over boulders. There is the Park Mode, which brings the height of the vehicle down 1.5 in. from NRH for purposes of easier ingress and egress. And although there is an improved drag coefficient for this vehicle versus its predecessor—0.37 vs. 0.407—to help improve fuel efficiency there is the Aero Mode, which lowers the vehicle by 0.6 in. when cruising at highway speed.

Of course, what makes a Jeep a Jeep for most people is its 4 x 4 capability. There are three systems offered:

  1. Quadra-Trac I. Uses a single-speed transfer case. Provides full-time four-wheel drive.
  2. Quadra-Trac II. A two-speed transfer case is used. Uses sensors to detect tire slip as well as "Throttle Anticipate"' which senses movement in the throttle from a stop in order to maximize traction before tire slippage. It can route up to 100% of torque to the axle with the most traction.
  3. Quadra-Drive II. Features an electronic limited-slip differential. Upon detection of slippage, it puts torque to the tires with the most traction. That's good, but not enough.

So they have the "Selec-Terrain" system, which allows the driver to select particular conditions so that the vehicle is setup to best handle them. There are five self-explanatory settings: Sand/Mud; Sport; Auto; Snow; Rock.

All of which meet the interests of the off-road enthusiasts, as well as those who buy a Jeep for purposes of dealing with demanding weather conditions (it is engineered to handle 20 in. of water fording). But there are those people who would like to have amenities. This comes to the fore not only in the use of far better materials on the interior (now the instrument panel is soft-touch, not something that brings the terrain of Moab to mind; the top-of-the-line Overland model has a cut-and-sew leather instrument panel and real wood trim) but in the electronics offerings: the available "Uconnect Media Center" is something more akin to what you'd expect to buy at a consumer electronics store than at a Jeep dealership. That is, it offers touch-screen and voice command for a variety of infotainment offerings. It features a 30-gigabyte hard drive. FLO TV Auto Entertainment is offered—yes, that's as in "television," live, mobile TV from providers ranging from CBS to MTV. In addition to which there is Unconnect Web, which combines WiFi and 3G for Internet access in the vehicle.

Of course, the quality, the capability and the amenities are all good and well. Really good and quite well. But at the start of the consideration of the vehicle is its design. And Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design, and his staff have done an exceptional job, one that is in keeping with the history of Grand Cherokees: "It is important to have a connection from beginning to end," he said (FYI: there was the ZJ from '93 to '98; the WJ from '99 to '04; and the WK from '05 to '10. This is the WK2). So instead of working for something that was radically different from what had come before—and they did go down that road before deciding to abandon it—they, as Allen put it, decided to "amplify Grand Cherokee."

"It is important to communicate Grand Cherokee right away," Allen said as he quickly drew a sketch of the vehicle that, with a few strokes, described the side view of the vehicle: fast windshield, fast backlight, short front and rear overhangs, and trapezoidal wheel openings. "The side view profile is strong and athletic. The body side is probably the sexiest ever to come out of the Jeep studio."

What's interesting to note is that they share the package with the Mercedes ML, which has more of a vertical design and less of the lower, more-planted stance of this vehicle.

Looking to the front, it has, of course, the seven-slot grille, and he described it as looking "more serious than the previous model. Not mean or mad, but more stern and serious." The headlamps are more rectangular than the previous model, a vehicle that was developed when Daimler owned the company. "The Germans had been keen on sprinkling a little Wrangler in every thing he did, so we put the round headlamps on in haste near the end," he said of the WK design. These headlamps bring it back to the WJ look.

And in keeping with tradition, there are, he says, a nod to the WK in the big B-pillar and design elements in the rear to the very first 1963 Wagoneer. What's more, when people think "Jeep," they might think about tow hooks in the front, which are available on this vehicle. Allen points out that an increasing number of SUVs are foregoing tow hooks because they provide all manner of challenges in meeting frontal impact regulations.

"There is a fan base for the Grand Cherokee," Allen said. "They love their vehicles. They love how it looks. There was no need to blow it up and start over. We did some other themes, but kept coming back to this."
And because the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the first product to be designed, engineered and manufactured by Chrysler Group LLC, this really matters.