Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published a news item that discussed a recent study by the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) which showed that American dealerships often prefer working with Japanese auto makers as opposed to domestic brands. Yet the NADA did outline some American brand success stories, most notably Jeep.
According to the NADA survey, Toyota, Honda, and Subaru, were among the overall brand favorites, something that has been true for many years. Still, the results show that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.’s (FCA) Jeep brand is making significant head way in dealer allegiance.
So what is Jeep doing to enhance its reputation with dealership owners?
First, a general sports-utility boom has occurred, fueled at least in part from generally low gas prices. But there’s more to the story.
Digging behind the headlines shows that decisions made at the very top of the Jeep organization since 2011 have built buzz around the brand and kept customers and dealers alike interested and invested.
For example, Jeep’s commitment to its Toledo factory five years ago created a positive feeling about the brand. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne announced that the company would invest heavily in the Ohio facility, retaining jobs and preserving a heritage that stretches back to the second World War, when Willys built Jeeps there.
“The excitement (of that decision) breathed life in the brand and got people pumped up about coming in and looking at the current products,” said Doug Kearns, general manager of the Yark Automotive Group in Toledo at the time.
Kearns noted that sales of Wranglers were strong in 2011, a fact that has changed little five years later. Jeep quietly churns out Wranglers at a breathtaking pace. In the doldrums of the economic downturn in 2010, Jeep sold just 9,634 Wranglers in May. Last month, even on an aging, soon-to-be-replaced platform, Jeep sold 19,551 Wranglers, a pace that dates to 2013.
Last year, CNBC Automotive Reporter Phil LeBeau praised the work Marchionne has done to build Jeep’s momentum. “He’s taken the brand from relatively modest sales that came almost exclusively from North America…and built it into a fledgling powerhouse that racked up sales of more than one million vehicles globally…”
Jeep works doggedly to infuse the Wrangler’s DNA into every product the company sells. The Renegade, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee nameplates all benefit from interest in the Wrangler, the vehicle’s solid sales volume, and its incredible resale value. The Wrangler’s is consistently listed as among the top three vehicles in the industry in resale value.
Dealers across the country have gone to great lengths to showcase Jeep products in ways that highlight their unique capabilities. Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Bournival Jeep built a three-acre off-road test track that allows customers to move beyond a simple cruise around a paved neighborhood.
“We want to do it right,” said Bournival Jeep’s Alissa Bournival. “I can give the customer an exceptional experience from beginning to end.”
That kind of commitment to a brand puts Jeep dealers head-to-head, for example, with many Land Rover dealerships which sell four-wheel-drive vehicles at often three times the cost of a Jeep.
Whatever Jeep is doing to burnish its brand with consumers seems to be working at the dealer level as well. As Jeep owners over the years have proudly boasted, “It’s a Jeep thing.”