Jeep is looking to turn around its fortunes in the UK – a market that “we screwed up twice”, boss Christian Meunier has admitted to Autocar – with a significant push into electrification.
The American company has identified EVs, including the warmly received Jeep Avenger, as the key to making significant inroads in Britain – where it currently holds a “virtually non-existent” 0.3% stake of the SUV market.
Here, in a candid interview, the Frenchman speaks about a new future for Jeep in Europe, its image and the enthusiast strength of the UK market.
What does electrification mean for Jeep capability?
“For me, there’s nothing more exciting than driving electric in a 4x4, and the reason is torque on demand, the one-pedal feel and the brake regen. You accelerate and brake with the same pedal, and that means that you can get the torque that you need. It’s extremely precise, very accurate, very soft, very smooth. And at the same time it’s silent, so you can hear the birds. The only thing you basically hear is the tyre on the rocks, which is pretty exciting stuff, right?”
We sometimes think that traditional owners are against change. Are you finding that?
“We’ve had so much success so quickly. We launched the Wrangler 4xe two years ago, and we’re already number one [in the plug-in hybrid segment] in North America. And with the Grand Cherokee that we launched last November, we’re ranked number two – well ahead of some brands that have been forever in the hybrid world.
“We’re doing extremely well, and the reason is that the product is better. All together, the people, the enthusiasts, they like their V6s, but they experience an electric Jeep Wrangler and realise that maybe they were wrong and they change their mind.”
The UK is an outlier for Jeep, with just 0.3% of the SUV market. Why have you had such little success here?
“I think there are many different reasons. The first is that when we launched the Renegade in 2014 it got a pretty good start everywhere in Europe, including in the UK, and then the powertrain that we had got hammered, due to emissions. It got penalised in taxes and things like that. So the product lost a lot of momentum.
“Then we launched the Jeep Compass, which was built in India, because of the right-hand-drive component, and that wasn’t the right idea because the UK-market customer requirement is close to [that in] Europe: the same kind of requirement in terms of technology, safety and everything, plus powertrain. So it wasn’t appropriate. I think we screwed up twice.
“Now we’re bringing the Avenger, which is a pure BEV and in the smaller part of the B-segment, and that’s a pretty significant segment in the UK.”
What does success look like for Jeep in the UK?
“Today we’re at 0.3% of the SUV market there, so we’re roughly non-existent. The good news is that the British are people still in love with the automobile. There’s still a lot of passion about driving, and they don’t buy cars only for transportation. British people enjoy driving. So I think the Jeep brand can resonate in the UK.
“All research says that British people like the brand, that there’s nothing wrong with the brand, so I think we need to reinforce the lifestyle component of it.
“We need to re-engage with dealers that have lost confidence in the brand because of all these difficulties in the past few years where we’re not making money. I think the Avenger is going to be that catalyst.”