Bringing The Brand Back To Basics
When Cappa first doled out this story assignment I thought I'd be writing a very different slant. As usual, I'd try to press the funny-button and talk about how, as the supreme being at Jeep, I'd make my underlings kneel before me as I passed in the hallways and avert all eye contact-like extras on a Jack Nicolson movie set. The corporate jet would be flown by a staff of scantily-clad female pilots and stewardesses a la a James Bond movie and secretaries (yeah, they'd be called secretaries again) would get their asses pinched like in an episode of Mad Men. Subordinates would be forced to eat pickled onions at my command and anybody caught arriving late to work would have to drive the pink Surrey-Edition JK for a month. And somewhere in the middle we'd churn out flatfenders and CJ-6s 'til the world saw things my way.
Unfortunately, before I could write that story, Cappa and Trasborg turned in their drafts for editing and I realized that they were actually taking this thing seriously. I mean, Cappa's story, full of facts and figures, almost reads like a job application. And Trasborg's story was uncharacteristically chock-full of salient observations and ideas. So here I am with all this pent up comedic banter on one hand and a very real idea of what the Jeep brand means to me on the other. Unfortunately, Jeep's current direction with the brand doesn't really jibe with my view of Jeep's military and utilitarian heritage.
I'm all about analogies, so here's my gripe. Harley Davison doesn't try to be Honda. It's not who they are. When Honda came to market and started killing it with the CBR and other girlie-type bikes back in the day, Harley didn't refine its V-twin engine to run smooth and quiet and not break down frequently 'cause a Harley is more than just transportation. It's a lifestyle thing. Harley has always stood out as an independent maverick awash in a sea of compromised mediocrity. And despite some rocky times thanks to mismanagement (thanks, AMF!), it generally kills it in sales, with new bikes flying off the showroom floor faster than the factory can make 'em.
Now let's look at the current Jeep models. Anything flying off the showroom floors as fast as the factory can build 'em? Wrangler Rubicon: yup. Fluffier Jeep models like the Sahara Wrangler: They hang around the lot a bit, but they do sell well. Grand Cherokee: Kinda-sorta, but things are looking down from models of the past. Commander: Not so much, and I think even without a corporate Hazel-enema the writing is on the wall for this puppy. Patriot, Liberty, Punkass (I mean Compass): If dealers don't pay you to take them away they should! The facts speak for themselves. Even if buyers know they won't ever use the Rubicon's capability off-road, they want to know it's there in reserve in case WWIII happens or zombies come to life. And, more important, they want the world to know via that big Rubicon badge emblazoned across the hood that they bought a real Jeep. Not a watered-down, RAV-4 substitute with worse resale value.
Now to me, the Jeep brand has a heritage that will hopefully never be equaled. Forged in a crucible of blood and hell during WWII, it won the heart of the free world as a driving force in the Allied victory. The Jeep came home from that conflict and began serving important industrial, agricultural, and infrastructural roles as the U.S. built itself into the most powerful nation on earth. It's a workhorse, a tool, and an icon. It stands for something real and measurable. It's an American. You should expect capability, ruggedness, and uncompromised loyalty out of your Jeep. However, marketing guys with fancy ties and $800 shoes are dragging the Jeep name through the mud. Compass? Patriot? Watered-down SUVs like the Commander? That's not what a Jeep is supposed to be at its core.