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Cappa's Jeep Factory

Wrangler Jk Driver Shot
John Cappa | Writer
Posted November 1, 2010
Photographers: Courtesy of Chrysler

If I Ran Jeep

You might think that you'd at least have to be an automotive enthusiast to work at an automobile manufacturer. Unfortunately, the automobile manufacturing business is no different than many other businesses in America. People who need jobs eventually find them and quite often they have no real deep-down love for what they do. At the end of the day, it's just a paycheck from a somewhat stable company that's close to what they call home. The truth is that many Jeep employees don't go off-road and don't even care that much about automobiles. And to me, that's a sad fact for a company that was built on utilitarian capability and post-war enthusiasm for the brand. Jeep is in the business of keeping its innovative ideas a secret, building the vehicles based on those ideas, and then hoping they can sell them. And for this reason I think that every employee under the Jeep logo should have a clear vision of where the company has been, what it's known for, and what its customers have come to expect. And if your vision produced nothing more than a car with a Jeep logo, like the Compass for example, you'd get transferred to the Chrysler division.

Jeep is not just a visual company-seven slats in the grille, round headlights, angular fender openings, and muscular lines do not make a Jeep. Functionality and capability do. Engineering and robustness should carry the aesthetics, not the other way around.

So if I were at the helm of the Jeep brand there would be some significant changes, although they wouldn't be all that far from what has worked for the company in the past. Jeep enjoyed a steady growth in sales volume of 117,000 vehicles in the 1960s to a peak of 629,000 vehicles in the 1990s. Jeep had become the number-one SUV brand in the world through 1990. By the 2000s, Jeep had lost favor and sales volume decreased to 495,000 units. The U.S. economy hadn't crashed yet, in fact it was booming until only recently. So what happened? I'm sure there were several factors, but past history makes me ponder one possibility. What I find most interesting over the years is how the number of Jeep models available could affect sales performance. In the 1940s there were four different models available, sales volume was at 159,000. By the 1950s volume had dropped off to 119,000 with seven different models available. In the 1960s there were 14 different Jeep models and sales hit a new low of 117,000 units. All through the prosperous years there were fewer than six Jeep models, and at the peak in the 1990s, there were only three Jeep models that survived the decade: the Wrangler, the Cherokee, and the Grand Cherokee (the Comanche and Grand Wagoneer were on their way out in the early 1990s and their numbers didn't account for much anyway). Interestingly enough, during Jeep's greatest sales years, every vehicle offering had solid axles front and rear. Coincidence? By the 2000s Jeep was back up to seven different models, yet the company was rewarded with 134,000 fewer sales. Let's focus on the success of 1990s compared to today.

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