It’s been a busy couple years for the Jeep brand and its CEO Jim Morrison. Virtually everything in the portfolio has been updated or replaced, with an assortment of all-new products, like the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models, joining the line-up.
Jeep also has begun the process of electrifying its product family with a second plug-in hybrid, the Grand Wagoneer 4xe, set to come onboard later this year.
To get a sense of what else is in store, TheDetroitBureau.com caught up with Morrison, who was named Jeep chief executive in June 2019. He has spent more than a quarter century with Stellantis and the various incarnations of Chrysler and Fiat Chrysler before that, including a stint as Jeep’s director of product marketing.
Born in the Canadian Maritime province of New Brunswick, he earned both a Bachelor of Arts and Science and Masters in Business Administration from the University of New Brunswick.
TheDetroitBureau: Let’s start about talking about the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. They take you into a new, more premium segment of the market. How are they doing for you?
Morrison: Off to a good start. It’s great to launch a new nameplate, and it’s doing it with a great connection to (Wagoneer) history. We’re attracting a lot of new customers, as you can imagine. We haven’t been in that segment in a while, and it’s a lot of new customers for us.
TDB: Are you finding a different mix than you expected between Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer?
Morrison: Yes, there’s higher demand for the (more expensive) Grand Wagoneer than in the overall segment right now. You can’t call a $60,000 to $70,000 Wagoneer mainstream but when you look at the large SUV segment, that’s what it is. Normally, the more premium vehicles, like Grand Wagoneer, make up a third, but it’s running higher. I expected that early, but it’s holding. I think a little of that is the 6.4-liter powertrain and performance. It might also be some of the technology, like 75 inches of screens.
New York, New York …
TDB: If there are any complaints about the Grand Wagoneer, it’s fuel economy, which isn’t great.
Morrison: For sure, and we’re going to talk about that in New York (at the auto show in April.
TDB: How are you going to address it? We all expect to see a 4xe plug-in hybrid version.
Morrison: Can’t talk about the electrification of the Grand Wagoneer but all Jeep vehicles will be electrified by 2025, so it’s obviously in the plan. That’s particularly one, but it’s also important because people buy those large SUVs for their capabilities to haul people and stuff. People have a lot to tow with those things. They want their toys to go along with them. Delivering that (with a hybrid) is a real challenge, but I think we’ve got a good solution for that.
TDB: We’ve seen stretched versions of the Wagoneer models running around. Can you talk about them?
Morrison: I can’t, but that will be part of the discussion in New York.
TDB: There seems to be a real market for vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition.
Morrison: People have needs for a lot of space in vehicles, like the Wagoneer. Now, you’ll be able to do it all in one. It’s a nice new space for us to be in that segment.
Give ’em what they want
TDB: And I imagine the profit margin when you get (the Wagoneer line) up to volume is going to be very comfortable for Stellantis.
Morrison: It’s nice. It’s nice white space for us, for sure.
TDB: Let’s get back to electrification.
Morrison: We’re pushing real hard to build on what’s natural for Jeep, and our electrification adds to our four-wheel-drive capability. We say “Jeep is freedom electrified,” and it’s making the vision about being true to our brand and delivering on freedom in a way that underwrites capability improvements.
TDB: You were slow to electrify, starting out with the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid.
Morrison: We were a little bit later in the marketplace but we did it with our icon, with Wrangler, first. And we just had our best-ever January sales for Wrangler. When you look at last year, we had the number one-selling hybrid (in the U.S.), and I don’t think a lot of people would have expected that to be a Jeep. And we’re going to continue to grow in that regard. What’s nice is we’re delivering a vehicle which is great for performance and capabilities, which people have been asking for forever. And one of the fun things is driving a Wrangler with the doors and top off in complete quiet – which can only happen with electrification.
TDB: I’ve heard the 4xe is now the most popular version of the Wrangler. Is that accurate?
Morrison: I don’t want to answer that because there are a lot of competitors paying attention. I want them to work to find out. I can tell you it is continuing to grow. Now we’re adding Grand Cherokee. Hopefully the 4xe version will be as well accepted as it was with Wrangler.
TDB: How do you differentiate a plug-in hybrid system with a Jeep from other models in the Stellantis line-up?
Morrison: It’s fair to say that being true to four-wheel-drive capability is what we’re always going to do at Jeep. When you look at the Wrangler (4xe) it has a true low range with a 70:1 crawl ratio. It’s got real four-wheel-drive grit. It needs to have that. And you can do that with all the torque backed up by the electric motors.
TDB: To wrap up: the Jeep line-up has grown a lot. Is there still whitespace (for more models) available?
Morrison: There is. There’s whitespace. We’re always listening to our customers and there are some more customers and some more white spaces.