Are motorists ready to switch to EVs? That’s a serious concern facing automakers around the world as they invest an estimated $500 billion or more to switch to battery power during the coming decade.
But at least one brand is betting that electrification will be critical to its global growth — and it’s likely one that could take observers by surprise: Jeep.
As an icon of a rugged outdoor lifestyle, the SUV brand might seem unlikely to embrace the switch, but its global CEO Christian Meunier says there are a variety of reasons why EVs fit “the dream … we are selling.” And that should yield significant growth in Europe, as well as the U.S., he told TheDetroitBureau.com during an exclusive interview at the North American International Auto Show.
EVs expected to connect with European buyers
Jeep has boosted sales by as much as 500% during the past decade, from about 300,000 to anywhere between 1.2 million to 1.5 million over the last few years. Significantly, where the U.S. used to account for about 90% of the brand’s volume, that has dipped to 60% as it has boosted business abroad.
But Meunier acknowledged foreign sales should be even higher. The problem, he said, is “We didn’t have the right powertrains,” especially in markets like France and Germany where concerns about fuel efficiency and emissions have led to increasingly stringent mandates.
“We had all these emissions constraints, all these additional taxes,” the Jeep boss said. “It was a nightmare. Now, with electrification, we can eliminate all these barriers.
“In Europe,” he added, “we have big opportunities. In markets like Japan and South Korea we have the same thing. Electrification gives us the opportunity to bring the best Jeep ever without having the constraints we had before.”
Jeep’s EV strategy makes a lot of sense for Europe, said Tyson Jominy, a senior analyst with J.D. Power. It should be “a home run,” he suggested, “in a market viewed as environmentally friendly.”
EVs bring advantages to the U.S., too
While the U.S. isn’t moving to battery power nearly as fast as Europe, Meunier said he believes Jeep will score well with consumers here, as well, and for more practical reasons. Electric motors simply make for a better off-road experience, he said.
“The torque is unbelievable,” noted Meunier, pointing to the performance of Jeep’s new 4xe plug-in hybrid models. The Wrangler 4xe has clearly clicked with buyers, climbing to the number one spot among U.S. PHEVs. And demand for the newer Grand Cherokee PHEV is solid, as well.
“I think with the 4xe we have a chance to educate the customer,” said Meunier. “Look at the demand. Very quickly, Americans have embraced (4xe technology) because they realize it makes a better Jeep.”
And, he believes, it helps set the stage for launching Jeep’s first all-electric models. At a media backgrounder earlier this month, the automaker revealed its first three all-electric models, including the little Avenger. Set to debut next year, it will target Europe, Asia and some other regions — though there are no plans to bring it to the U.S.
Two more U.S. EVs in the works
American EV fans will have to wait until 2024 when Jeep introduces both the Recon, a roughly Wrangler-sized EV, as well as the bigger Wagoneer S. Both will be based off the skateboard-like STLA Large platform and, they will “take us to the next level of 4×4 capabilities,” Jim Morrison, the North American Jeep brand boss, said during the presentation.
The event created a bit of confusion among attendees who subsequently reported that there would be one more Jeep EV to follow for the U.S. market.
In fact, Meunier told TheDetroitBureau.com, there will be two more, but they won’t reach American showrooms until 2025.
The executive declined to go into detail but noted, “They will focus on mainstream segments,” adding, “It will be existing products that will be replaced.”
Even in the U.S., Jeep’s EV strategy should pay off, said Elizabeth Krear, J.D. Power’s not electric vehicle research director. The SUVs are generally quite fuel thirsty, she noted, the Wagoneer line, in particular, struggling to reach 20 mpg.
“One of the key benefits of an EV is the cost of ownership,” said Krear. And when improved on- and off-road performance is factored in, that should play out well for potential buyers.
If Jeep’s plans pan out, it expects EVs will make up 100% of its sales Europe by 2030, while new products such as the Wagoneer S and Recon will generate 50% of U.S. sales by decade’s end.