Jeep goes overseas

2015 Jeep Renegade Latitude and Trailhawk

While Jeeps currently aren’t necessarily built for the Japanese market – primarily the US market – they were built in 1941 for battlefields in Europe and the Pacific.

Today, though, Jeep has different ideas of overseas conquests. Since 2009, global sales have tripled and business outside the North American region accounts for a whopping one-third of those sales.

The compact Jeep Renegade was designed for international markets – markets that tend to be very finicky and also where all-0American designs can get lost in translation, so to speak, due to differing design ideas globally.

Jeep designers say it’s a balancing act. They have to preserve the Jeep 4×4 brand and it’s American DNA, while offering designs that click worldwide.

Klaus Busse, vice president for interior design at Jeep-maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spoke with Automotive News about the challenges of the international markets and the Jeep Renegade, currently being sold in Japan and on its way to China.

“That’s something that we’ve been spinning our heads over for quite a bit,” Busse says. “We’re walking a very fine line.”

Getting this blend has never been more important than it is now since CEO Sergio Marchionne is banking on record sales to ignite the boom of global growth with vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler, Cherokee, and Renegade.

In 2014, global Jeep sales were at 1.02 million, up from 337,700 in 2009. Sales grew to 324,671 from 106,015 in that same period outside North America, within such important markets as China, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Germany, and Japan.

“We look at the American soul. The American dream has a lot of cachet around the world. I travel the globe every year, and wherever I go, people love America,” Busse said outside Tokyo at a Japan-market launch of the Renegade. “We don’t go to the drawing board saying we’re going to do a piece of American design. We’re going to do a piece of American culture.” He also says Jeep is already a global brand with a “very strong American root.”

Ford was the precursor with blending the Mustang for interest in international markets, giving it a lower, wider, and sleeker look. It maintained its bold front end and shoulders, but, for international markets, got independent rear suspension, meatier brakes, and paddle shifters.

It worked, but finding that kind of balance isn’t easy.

John Manoogian, a professor of automotive design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit (and a former General Motors designer) said, “If American designs can be construed as an asset, that may be a viable strategy. But…it would appear that the car manufacturers are leaning more and more to global acceptance than global polarization. There are certainly exceptions, but the trend appears to be fitting in rather than standing out.”

Jeep Renegade

The Renegade will be a big test of Jeep’s new design. It’s the first Jeep designed to fit a global footprint. It’s not manufactured in the US, but Italy and Brazil.

Since Japan is the number six global market for the Jeep Wrangler, Japan gets the Renegade first. Jeep is also the best-selling American brand in the Japanese market.

Jeep sales grew from 1,027 in 2009 to 6,840 last year. That’s an increase of almost 6,000 Jeeps!

“Did we design the vehicle any different that we would have designed it solely for the US? We did not. We wanted to design an American Jeep that had cachet around the world. It’s truly what we think a Jeep should be,” said Busse of the Renegade released in Japan.

Nothing has been changed to sway the Renegade to sway global tastes, though it has features that make it very consumer-friendly overseas. It has a small footprint, good fuel economy, and smart packaging — all attributes that sell both inside and outside North America. Plus it comes in bright colors with fun styling – something the Japanese see as “cute” and can’t resist.

Former Ford designer Nori Kurihara, who now runs his own contract design studio, Nori, Inc., and is also director of Japan’s Car Design Academy says, “I don’t really think of it as an American design because of the smaller size. It’s just right for Japan. The looks are rugged enough to appeal to men yet compact enough to win women over. The range of bright colors is good, too.”

The Renegade should also help power Jeep’s sixth straight year of growth in Japan, predicts Pontus Häggström, CEO of F CA Japan: “We should get a good kick out of the Renegade.”

To infinity and beyond! Ok, China and further

Jeep expects to see the Renegade in China, though no dates have been given yet. It could hit a sweet spot in the crossover market, which seems to be holding solid in the country’s tumultuous market.

China is already the number two market for Jeep outside the US, so to add a new assembly plant in China to produce the Cherokee by the end of this year, followed by two more unnamed models next year, makes tons of sense.

So why does Jeep’s design do so well abroad and others don’t?

One reason is Jeep’s four-wheel drive lineup has the beef and engineering to back up its rugged profile.

“The Renegade does venture further from the true Jeep brand promise, in terms of design execution. The design will appeal to a wider audience and is less polarizing. But remember, the Jeep brand stands for authenticity and function. As long as the potential audience reads into that design, the Renegade should not have any problems,” Manoogian said.

Busse agrees, saying, “I believe there’s a lot of love for Jeep around the world. I see how fast we’re growing.”

For more information on the US Jeep Renegade, click here.

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