With the launch of its 2022 Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models, Jeep is doing more than just targeting buyers asking for larger and more luxurious SUVs. It’s also laying the foundation for what will become an entirely new “premium” sub-brand.
As TheDetroitBureau.com discovered during a daylong drive of the two new models, there’s a complete absence of Jeep badging on the two new, three-row offerings. Instead, they are boldly emblazoned either Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer, front and back, as well as on their steering wheels. Going forward, “Wagoneer” will morph into a distinctive sub-brand, much as Range Rover has for its parent, Land Rover.
And, much like what the British automaker has done, we can expect to see still more products follow, specifically designed for the Wagoneer sub-brand, Rachel Fellrath, senior marketing manager for the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, said in an exclusive interview.
“Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are establishing a sub-brand” that will be called “Wagoneer,” said Fellrath. “There are currently two models. The idea is we get a portfolio of products in the future.”
The idea of creating a sub-brand is not unique, as one can see with a key Jeep competitor. “Think of it like Range Rover which has (added) models like Evoq and Velar” to its original Range Rover and Range Rover Sport SUVs, said Fellrath. That’s not to say Jeep is copying what the British SUV brand did, but it can clearly see the pay-off.
Several other manufacturers are taking a similar strategy, including another direct Jeep competitor. Ford is positioning Bronco as a sub-brand and, along with the small Bronco Sport and larger Bronco models, it has confirmed more products are coming. That’s widely expected to include an off-road-oriented pickup to challenge the Jeep Gladiator.
BMW created its “i” division for its electric vehicles and Mercedes-Benz is setting up a cluster of sub-brands. There’s Mercedes-Maybach for its most exclusive products, Mercedes-AMG for its most sporty models, and Mercedes-EQ for its rapidly growing line-up of all-electric models, like the big EQS sedan that just went into production.
“Having a premium Jeep sub-brand makes sense,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with IHS Markit, “but it depends on how it fleshes out over time.”
While the Mercedes and Land Rover efforts appear to be paying off, there have been some notable failures, such as Chevrolet’s short-lived Geo unit. After an initial success, declining demand convinced Toyota to abandon its Scion operation in 2016. Hyundai, meanwhile, first nudged into the luxury market with its original Genesis sedan, attempting to sell it as a brand extension before deciding to spin it off into an entirely independent brand.
Plenty of challenges
“Jeep is already a somewhat premium brand in its space,” said Brinley, so it will require a careful strategy to justify creating a new sub-brand while making sure it doesn’t damage the image of its existing product lines.
That’s clearly part of the challenge, said Fellrath and other Jeep officials, noting they are now in the midst of laying out strategy and exploring product opportunities for Wagoneer.
Future models will pick up on some of the design cues introduced with the two new 3-row SUVs, including vertical exterior pillars and tall windows, as well as their emphasis on technology. The Grand Wagoneer, for example, offers a large video screen for the front passenger, as well as the first automotive application for the audiophile gear manufacturer McIntosh.
“Whatever we do,” said Fellrath, additional models “will have to be premium.”
Considering the direction taken by Jeep’s parent, the newly formed Stellantis, several insiders broadly suggested future products will be electrified — though whether that will mean hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full battery-electric technology is currently part of the discussion.
One thing certain, don’t expect to see additional Wagoneer models right away, said Fellrath, explaining, “The Grand Wagoneer needs space to define itself before adding more products.”
But the process of setting up Wagoneer as its own brand will begin in the months ahead as Jeep rolls out an aggressive new marketing campaign that will be notably void of reference to the name, “Jeep.”