Jeep Wrangler Looks To Wow Europe.
But Sales Will Much Tougher There.
“In the U.S. it is doing exceptionally well. It is a heartland product for Jeep. That’s where people understand it. In Europe though, I’m not so sure”
GRAZ, Austria – Sales of Jeep’s revitalized new Wrangler are going gang-busters in the U.S. and the company is hoping that Europeans might start to understand the attraction of this go anywhere, quirky throwback.
Last year Jeep sold 190,522 Wranglers in the U.S, and looks set to double that this year, boosted by the launch of the new model, but in Europe sales have barely registered, with just over 3,670 in 2017, according to carsalesbase.com. Jeep is trying to change all that and is believed to have a European target of between 10,000 and 12,000 a year.
The new Jeep is certainly much more civilized than the previous one, but it still retains some links with the past. For some reason, there are people who want to remove the doors and windshield before embarking on their off-road adventures and the Wrangler still allows that. It also explains the rubber mounts on the top of the hood, where the removed windshield can sit. The roofs are removable, naturally. The interior still looks like a nostalgic but sophisticated version of the old one, but the dashboard is unnecessarily overcomplicated. Despite all the claimed improvements, the steering still seemed scarily woolly. Most puzzling of all; while just about every modern 4×4 uses a computer to seamlessly move from 2 to 4 wheel-drive and has little switches to select variations like snow, mud, and rocks, the Wrangler retains the separate clunky gear-change to move into four-wheel drive and other variations.
The sales success in the U.S. says that this is in fact what the customers want, but it remains to be seen if this will work in Europe. Another hurdle here is the price, likely to start at 44,000 pounds ($58,000) and 55,000 pounds ($73,000) for the top of the range Rubicon. Jeep will confirm prices before the European launch in September. This compares with U.S. starting prices of about $30,000, but European prices are after tax.
Diesel or petrol
In Europe, Jeep is offering a choice of a 2.2 liter 200 hp diesel or a 272 hp gasoline motor, with an eight–speed automatic gearbox, 2 or 4 doors, in Sport, Sahara or Rubicon trim. The engines were gutsy and the Wranglers did their stuff to the manner born off road. On the highway they were impressive too, with plenty of acceleration when required, and with smooth, quiet, high-speed cruising.
Dave Sullivan, analyst at Autopacific in Detroit, said the new Wrangler is doing very well in the U.S. because Jeep has sorted out the handling and ride problems with the old one.
“The new one is extremely civilised even with the two solid axles. It’s a huge improvement and the interior is much better too. No other brand in the world has the same level of following as Jeep. I couldn’t stand driving the old Wrangler but the new one is better in every single way. Off-road, nothing has the capability of the Wrangler and there’s a huge aftermarket for customization. You’d be hard pressed to find a Wrangler around here that looks as though it came out of the factory,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the Wrangler doesn’t have much competition in the U.S., but because of its success other manufacturers are looking at entering this segment with its big profit mark-ups. Sullivan said Ford is bringing back the Bronco to tackle this market.
Ford is re-introducing the Bronco in January. Land Rover is rumored to be thinking about resurrecting the go-anywhere Defender. Currently in the U.S. competition consists of the Toyota 4Runnder, Lexus GX, Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes G-Class.
British-based IHS Markit analyst Tim Urquhart said Jeep will sell about 10,000 Wranglers a year in Europe, perhaps peaking at around 12,000. He agreed the new model was a big improvement on the old one, which is more sophisticated and with higher equipment levels.
“In the U.S. it is doing exceptionally well. It is a heartland product for Jeep. That’s where people understand it. In Europe though, I’m not so sure. The average 4×4 SUV in Europe is much more mainstream and with its separate gear lever to engage four-wheel drive it is clearly a serious off-roader, but it’s not what 98% of the market wants,” Urquhart said.
The Jeep brand generally is in the middle of huge sales push in Western Europe and in the first half of 2018 sales rose 70.5% to 85,930, according to the European Car Manufacturers Association.
Jeep’s European Wrangler plans are long-range and ambitious, but won’t survive for long in 25% import tariffs. And much else too.