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August 2009 Trail Head - Jp Editorial

Posted in Features on August 1, 2009
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I think the Jeep brand is cursed. I wouldn't know why anyone would want to put a curse on it, but it's pretty apparent to me that someone at some point has done it. Let me explain. To this day, nearly every automotive company that has owned Jeep has been saved (short term) by the brand and disappeared from the face of the earth.

It all started in 1908 when John North Willys purchased the nearly defunct Overland Automotive Company and formed Willys-Overland in 1912. By 1926 Willys-Overland was the third-largest automobile manufacturer in the world. The depression in the late 1920s nearly killed the company and after a bankruptcy it was reorganized into Willys-Overland Motors Incorporated in 1936. In 1953 Kaiser, a then ailing car company, picked up Willys-Overland Motors and changed the name to Kaiser-Willys, eliminating the Overland badge. It wasn't long before the Jeep line overshadowed the Kaiser and Willys car lines, both of which disappeared by 1960. A name change to Kaiser-Jeep in 1963 erased the Willys name from the history books from there on out. Then in 1970 the American Motors Corporation (AMC) purchased the Kaiser-Jeep cash cow and Kaiser was removed from the nameplate. By the mid 1980's AMC was on its last legs. The Jeep line was still strong and the brand had become too much of a valuable asset to change the name. In 1987 Chrysler picked up Jeep to avoid having to create its own SUV line from scratch. Then in 2007 Daimler-Benz stormed in from Europe creating DaimlerChrysler and went to work diluting the Jeep brand that ironically was once a reason for German defeat. By the end of 2008 the Germans had retreated back to the fatherland as fast as they moved in, leaving a wake of undesirable Jeep products behind them and the company once again became Chrysler Jeep. New owner, Cerberus, quickly gave up on the endeavor less than 6 months later and put Chrysler into bankruptcy just a few days before this writing.

I always thought the comment about history repeating itself was a load of crap, and I hate when people say universal phrases like that. But it does seem to make sense, at least for Jeep. I don't really know what will happen to Chrysler at the end of all this. But I'm fairly confident that Jeep will remain intact as it always has. Someone or some company will pick it up and likely continue the tradition better than its past few owners. Maybe we'll only have one Jeep model, the Wrangler, when it's all said and done. It might not be such a bad thing to see the company head back to basics. Oh, don't get me wrong here, with all the government crash, emissions, and fuel consumption standards imposed on the automakers we won't ever see CJ-like Jeeps again. But just maybe we'll end up with an impressive lineup of Jeep vehicles like what was once available in the early days. I know my fingers are crossed.

--John Cappa

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