Jeep is a crucial part of the FCA lineup. As the market continues to favor SUVs over traditional cars, original SUV brand is perfectly positioned to bank on that, and Jim Morrison knows it.
Morrison is the Canadian-born head of Jeep, stepping into the position last year after over two decades within FCA. The top sales chart champ across all brands may be the Ram 1500—another marque Morrison has headed—but Jeep covers a wider range of the market.
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We caught up with him for a short talk at the recent Canadian International Autoshow. It was the national debut for the new 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, so naturally that was where the interview started. We asked Morrison about the thinking behind the truck as well as the new Desert Rated sub-brand.
“I think the main thing is, the work to move Jeep from a trail-rated brand that’s really focused on rock-climbing into a purpose-built brand that’s now going to take a leadership position with high-speed desert rating really came from our customers,” explains Morrison. “We saw them modifying their Jeeps to do the stuff that we do now with the Gladiator Mojave.”
Morrison told us earlier that Jeeps are some of the most modified vehicles on the road. The Gladiator Mojave takes inspiration from that, sure, but it also draws off experience usually tied to sports cars: competition.
“We started out, we raced it at Baja, we actually had some really good success there, winning in class and the championship with the Baja 1000,” beams Morrison. “Now we’ve amped it up with putting some of the learnings of that from the suspension bits and the four-wheel drive capability into the Mojave, to be able to backup our claim of being the best desert-rated brand.”
Satisfying customer demand is a common theme within the FCA family, something we heard earlier in the day from Chrysler’s Mary Ann Capo. We ask Morrison if that is the driving force behind the brand’s new 4xe badging, an electrification movement that will spread across the whole lineup by 2022. “For sure,” he confirms, “we continue to look at the regulations and as well as where the industry is going.”
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But more important for Jeep—and arguably for it more than any other purveyor of utility vehicles outside of maybe Land Rover—is authenticity. Morrison digs in here, expanding on how the team is weighing traditional Jeep characteristics against the move towards alternative drivetrains.
“Customers have told us they want a Jeep to be a Jeep, so it’s got to be a really good 4×4 first. And that’s where we see the 4xe expansion of electrification across the range by 2022, as kind of the next step of Jeep’s four-wheel drive leadership and a natural evolution. You go back to 1941 where we had the first Willys, and then we had the first automatic hubs, then we had the first automatic T-case, and we had electronic lockers and disconnecting sway bars. All of that four-wheel drive technology we’ve taken a leadership position on over the years is now transforming into ‘what does it mean for electric?’ When you think of putting electrification in Jeeps that are known for four-wheel drive capability, it will really take it to the next level for what’s important to the core of our brand and it will be really fun to drive too, because all the open-air freedom, it’s quiet, all that sort of stuff.”
Further on the tech front, the Jeep head keeps his cards close about Uconnect 5. When will we see FCA’s new powerhouse infotainment system in a vehicle sporting the seven-slot grille? “I can’t really comment on the future,” Morrison teases, “but it does make a lot of sense right?”
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Considering the setting, and Morrison’s own roots, we ask about what exactly a Desert Rated Jeep offers the Canadian market. “Well yeah, there are some places with sand, in fact I grew up with a beach in New Brunswick that had some cool sand,” notes Morrison. “Not the big long sand runs that you’d expect in the Sahara desert or the Mojave desert that we’re paying tribute to with the name on the Jeep. But it’s that next level of capability that, whether you’re in the sand or the snow, it’s always great to have a Jeep. So it’s going to be great for Canadians to have the most capable vehicle in their driveway for sure.”
The Gladiator only launched a year ago. Now that Jeep has jumped back into the mid-size pickup market, it’s had twelve months to evaluate where the market stands from a direct perspective. We ask about what that’s taught the team, and looking ahead, where it thinks the mid-size pickup market is heading.
“The segment continues to grow, up double-digits year-on-year, and you can expect that to continue with obviously with us and a competitor coming back to the market place driving a lot of interest in mid-size pickup trucks,” states Morrison.
He continues, explaining that it’s the continued car-ification of crossovers and trucks that’s improving the breed. “But really it’s even more than that: it’s the convergence of the technologies that we’re seeing,” Morrison expands, “car-like drivability, car-like fuel economy, that’s now available on a pickup truck.”
“That’s really expanding what could’ve been a toy for some people to use with their lifestyles before, is now an everyday driver as well. And really a destination on wheels so to speak that we have to offer with Gladiator. I think as the technology continues to infuse itself into the different segments we’re going to continue to see more people shifting to SUVs and pickup trucks specifically.”
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We wrap up on a subject we’re practically obligated to touch on: Morrison’s tease of the Grand Wagoneer earlier in the day. “Yeah, I’d probably be fired. I might be fired anyway,” he laughs. The Wagoneer, which is expected to debut some time this year before arriving as a 2022 model, will fill the seven-seater hole in the lineup. It would sit above the brand’s best-selling Grand Cherokee, and based on Morrison’s earlier comments, should offer an electrified powertrain option. A bigger Jeep is something brand fans have been asking for since the Commander ended production in 2011.
“I think one of the things we like about the Jeep brand is that we pay attention to what our customers are saying,” Morrison comment. “They’ve said they wanted a pickup truck? We’ve given the Gladiator. They’ve said they wanted a Wrangler with a diesel? We’ve given them EcoDiesel. So obviously we pay attention to them and close attention to what our customers are looking for. It makes a lot of sense to be next out of the chute with the Grand Wagoneer, but more on that soon.”