With the expansion of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee line-up, one that will include both two-row and three-row models, Jeep has brought its styling closer to that of the Compass and forthcoming Wagoneer.
TheDetroitBureau.com recently had the chance to talk with the head of Jeep exterior design, Mark Allen, during the Grand Cherokee’s recent launch in Michigan. During our sit down with him, Allen talked about the lineage of the Grand Cherokee. He also talked about defying conventional wisdoms in designs and why some fads are unlikely to return.
A nod to the past
The Detroit Bureau: When I look at the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee, it’s the first time that I’ve seen a Grand Cherokee where I didn’t see the influence of Jeep designer Brock Stevens.
Mark Allen: Well, let’s talk about that. The Grand Wagoneer was our original luxury SUV and in ’91, I think we stopped making it, and ’93 was the first Grand Cherokee, the ZJ. And that was really an extension of the little Cherokee, if you remember, it was meant to replace that, but didn’t and we didn’t – wisely, and that’s where the there was a fork in the road.
After that, the subsequent Grand Cherokees, the WJ, the WK and the current car, always baked in a little bit of Wagoneer. This one has actually even more. Of course, it has the wheel openings and the lean forward grille.
We were looking at the Brock Stevens’ Wagoneer when we were doing that. And then there’s a little slash on the taillight that means nothing to most people, but to me it’s it reminds me of that blocky taillight that went around the corner later on. And then you’ll see when we get finally get to the regular Grand Cherokee two row, there’s even a little bit more, because I let it continue to influence.
I see the Grand Cherokee as the lineage of Wagoneer. The new Wagoneer is a Wagoneer in name only.
This car is the one that’s always carried those little design cues, the tapering D-pillar, the slash in the tail lamp, and now I think that leaning forward front end. In the beginning, that was to get the hood longer to match the long roof on the three-row, but it works great on both cars. So it was kind of a bit intentional, I’m really, maybe at a fault sometimes (being) too much a fan of continuing heritage things, because it’s always got to be new, it’s got to be pushing forward, but I like having little nods to the past.
TDB: The lean forward grille is something that’s just hasn’t really been done on modern Jeeps, yet it’s obviously a part of Jeep’s heritage. So it’s just one of those cues it’s pulled from the past.
MA: I happen to be a big fan of the whole front end because it looks intelligent, and it looks confident. I don’t like all the meanness and anger that’s going on in the front ends right now. This car doesn’t need to do that. It’s the Grand Cherokee, and it needs to be stable and confident. This car will go into service for a few years, the current one, we’re in 10 years now. I don’t know that we’ll go that far with the new one, but yeah, it’ll be on the road for a little while. So I don’t want it to be like, great today and not tomorrow sort of thing,
TDB: It seems like some of those themes we’re seeing on the new Grand Cherokee are ones that debuted on the Compass, such as the chrome wraparound trim piece, and other elements, such as the D-pillar and the whole stance of the vehicle, it all seems to have started with the Compass.
MA: They go back and forth; we do them in the same room. When we did that, the brightwork that went from the mirror around and under the backlight, we really liked that. We take the Compass and relate it to the Grand Cherokee side of the family, whereas the Renegade is clearly related to the Wrangler side of the family. It worked, but it was by mistake, honestly.
When we had the original Compass with the round headlights, I had to do the midcycle refresh and to go fast, I grabbed the Grand Cherokee headlight and the rest of the car kind of fell into place. This idea of a mini Grand Cherokee came into play, and we played it up with a new Compass as well. So, I like linking those together and then the other side of the family.
TDB: When you start to look at heritage of Jeep Grand Cherokee, it goes back to the Wagoneer, and the Super Wagoneer, the first luxury SUV.
MA: They were just trying to make a station wagon. They were not trying to do anything special. They didn’t really see it as how it’s used now.
Changing buyer preferences
TDB: Let’s face it, most SUVs and crossovers are just station wagons.
MA: In the early part of my career, I was told over and over and over and read it in magazines that in the American market, you can’t sell a five-door hatchback. That’s every CUV on the road. Take a hatchback, jack it up, put a meaty tire on it, and suddenly it’s okay. (Laughs) Look at convertibles; convertibles are dead, right? We sell hundreds of thousands a year; every Wrangler is a convertible.
Something about changing the formula makes it acceptable. They don’t buy it because it had four-wheel-drive capability, they buy it because it’s configurable convertible. It will never go in low range. (Laughs)
TDB: On the new vehicle, you offer a black roof. Given your need for design longevity is there any concern about doing it? It seems to be a trend right now.
MA: It’s huge trend right now. It’s the new vinyl top.
TDB: Oh, that’s exactly what it is.
MA: But we looked at it as a really clever way to manage some of the visual weight of the car. I really like the black or the white. It cuts down the visual height, and it gives it some sophistication. Honestly, I think it’s cool, it’s probably a trend, that’ll be with us for a few more years and go away. Now you’re starting to see white roofs. I’ve seenChevrolet does a white roof and I’ve seen red on Kias, so then, it’s just going to be two-tone.
What’s old may be new again — or not
TDB: Two-toning has been gone for decades. It’s overdue to come back because it’s a cheap, easy way to distinguish a car line.
MA: Well, it’s not always that cheap and well, it seems easy, but the issue honestly is the plants aren’t set up for it anymore.
TDB: So talk about this a little bit why it’s not so easy.
MA: When you think about it, a car gets painted red. It goes in the tunnel one end in primer and comes out the other end red. To paint that same car with a black roof, I have to paint the roof black in a different booth, bring the car around do some masking and stuff and then into the tunnel. So it’s got to make two trips, and we’re just not set up for body shop space.
I can put a car in a station, put the wheels on and go to the next station. It takes two minutes or something like that. To paint it, it’s got to go in and get painted and dry. And if I paint the roof black, it’s got to get to a certain amount of dryness so I can tape it off and do the body. My point is just I think back in the day, there were probably more paint booths. Now, it’s a dedicated tunnel.
TDB: Of course, there was a time when automakers offered a lot more paint colors.
MA: Yeah, yeah. It’s funny, I’ve got some, some old catalogs. I’m fascinated by this like 1971 Chrysler catalog, There’s three different browns. But if you got a green car, you got a green interior.
TDB: What colors surprises you with its popularity?
MA: The continuation of silver and permutations of that. We have some colors on, particularly on Wrangler, there’s a straight shade gray. It’s the color of your locker in high school. It’s nothing. And it’s one of our most popular colors.
In fact, we’ll probably make it a standard color. But, red, white, black, silver, gray — that’s your standard colors then. Right? Well, in Wrangler, we now have now three grays — three. When we do special colors on Wrangler like purple? You’ll max out the desire for purple in about two weeks. But you can sprinkle it out. Yellow comes and goes. We haven’t found a color that doesn’t work on Wrangler yet.
TDB: And on the Grand Cherokee, it’s very different.
MA: You have a premium palette. But, we’re starting to see movement in that zone. A brightly colored car works up to about $12,000. After that, it really gets conservative. But then you get to $100,000, it comes back on a Lamborghini, or something like that. So I can paint a Neon or a Dart this color, and a Lamborghini. But nothing in between. That’s starting to move around a little bit. We’re starting to see more premium vehicles with more extroverted color palettes.
TDB: So we shouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the future, when there’s a high-performance variant of the Grand Cherokee with a far more vibrant color palette.
MA: Yeah, don’t be surprised. Now having said that, probably not going to paint the three-row car, yellow.