June 6, 2014
Chrysler’s Jeep brand is surging up the sales charts, helped in large part by a model built in Ohio.
From January through April, Jeep sales are up 56 percent in central Ohio compared with the prior year, a larger increase than any other brand, according to Autoviewonline.com.
The brand is doing almost as well nationwide, with sales up 49 percent through May.
“We’re pretty blessed to see the market has turned,” said Justin Harmon, general manager at Bob Caldwell Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram on the North Side.
The sales growth largely is driven by one model, the Cherokee, a midsize crossover assembled in Toledo.
The Cherokee was reintroduced last fall with a new design that replaced another Toledo product, the Liberty.
Chrysler hired an additional 1,800 workers in Toledo last year for the introduction of the Cherokee.
There are now 6,200 people working there, 5,200 who are Chrysler employees and 1,000 who work for suppliers. The total is roughly triple what it was when Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.
“I don’t know a city in North America that has had this kind of growth,” said Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12. “I think the best example of the automotive turnaround in the nation would be right here in Toledo, Ohio.”
Jeep has used the Cherokee name on and off since the 1970s. The company’s midsize SUV is the Grand Cherokee.
And yet, the new Cherokee is different, showing the influence of Fiat, the Italian car company that now owns Chrysler. The new model is less boxy than the Liberty and is packed with new technology.
Dealers say the model is doing well with younger buyers and women, while remaining strong with men.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” said Nate Sherman, sales manager at Byers Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Whitehall. “The styling stands out from a lot of its competitors.”
Jeep is poised to continue with its sales momentum, said Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst for Edmunds.com. He is looking ahead to the 2015 Renegade, a new compact crossover that likely will go on sale early next year.
The Renegade and the Cherokee together will give the brand a strong presence in segments that have not been Jeep’s strengths, he said.
“They are really injecting a new kind of life into the brand,” he said.
Through five months this year, Jeep has sold 67,095 of the Cherokee nationwide. In the same period last year, it sold 5,894 of the Liberty, part of the final sell-off of that model before the introduction of the Cherokee.
The brand’s top seller this year is the Grand Cherokee, with 74,559 units, up 16 percent from last year.
Another factor in the increase in popularity is the increase in availability, said Harmon of the North Side dealership. This is a shift from a time when demand exceeded supply.
“For the last four years, they can’t build them as fast as the demand is calling for them,” he said.
Among the central Ohio region’s top 10 new-car brands, Jeep has the largest percentage increase with 56 percent, followed by Subaru with 26 percent and Kia with 22 percent.
Information from The Blade was included in this story.