‘Compatriot’ no softy says Jeep’s NZ man

The next Jeep for New Zealand will do the job of two incumbents - and do it better, the distributor asserts.


A TOUGH act will follow two ‘mud lite’ Jeeps that have achieved middling local interest, the brand’s distributor has promised.

David Smitherman, chief executive officer of franchise-holder Ateco Group New Zealand, has confirmed the new compact sports utility to replace the Patriot and Compass, likely land around mid-2017, will be a far more credible Jeep than those incumbents.

A model that, though yet to be officially named has already earned the monicker Compatriot within brand circles, will be followed, perhaps in 2018, by the replacement for Jeep’s toughest dirt-tuned drive, the Wrangler.

Several more Jeep models are also coming over the next couple of years, but when and what they are is something Smitherman wasn’t keen to detail when he spoke with MotoringNetwork at a Jeep Experience Day at Woodhill Forest, north of Auckland, to celebrate 2016 being the 75th year since the brand was conceived.

However, he told MotoringNetwork today that he has seen all of the incoming product at a Jeep symposium he attended in Detroit last week and liked what he saw.

The Compatriot – a name he’s comfortable with if it is adopted - is especially impressive: “I’ve seen it, it looks fantastic and it is going to be very much a welcome vehicle to our range. The design cues are along the lines of Grand Cherokee and that’s about as much as I can say at the moment.

“We’re really excited about it … I feel as though it will continue to grow our brand.”

He said dealers were already facing questions about when the Compass and Patriot, both of which were absent yesterday, were to be replaced – an unsurprising circumstance, given both date back to 2007.

He cannot yet pin down a firm launch period, beyond suggesting “around mid next year.”

Compatriot is expected to achieve much the same level of sales penetration that is provided by the brand’s current champion, the Grand Cherokee – around 20 to 25 percent of sales. That’s a big leap over the Compass and Patriot, which cumulatively contributed to just 10 percent of Jeep’s New Zealand sales in 2015, which just a few hundred registrations.

He agreed Jeep will effectively be out to regain ground. “Absolutely. Really, it’s a whole new segment for us, one we haven’t been active in for two years – we’re looking to achieve a substantial slice of it.

“Grand Cherokee is good for our dealers, for us … it’s highly profitable and in a good segment. But we need to grow our business and you’ll see that we are doing that already with the Renegade. But we need this one (Compatriot).

“It’s a big opportunity for us and it where Jeep needs to be.”

Smitherman is confident a core appeal is that the new model will be far better suited to proper off-roading than the current cars, which even at launch were described as being ‘cute-utes’.

Jeep was hoping back then that delivering vehicles that were purely front-drive in one format (Compass) and light-duty four-wheel-drive in the other would deliver more urban market sales.

It has in North America, but hardly anywhere else, not least New Zealand where the Jeep models have generally not enjoyed the benefits of a big lift in crossover and sports utility interest, a blow for the distributor given the compact category where they compete has become a boom sector.

Whereas Compass (below, right) was wholly front drive and Patriot (above) went both ways, just one Compatriot will be in two-wheel-drive and the remainder will come wearing mud boots, including an extreme version with the vaunted Trailhawk badge.

He says Compatriot needs to be harder than the current offers, and will be.

“I think we need to be true to our form, that we are an off-road vehicle company.

“It will be a genuine off-roader … there will be a two-wheel-drive version but we want to have an off-road capable vehicle and that’s what we are going to be pushing.

Compatriot Trailhawk will be the hero. “We are really pushing the Trailhawk badging. There’s a Renegade Trailhawk, a Cherokee Trailhawk and Grand Cherokee Trailhawk will be released shortly.”

At the same token, Compatriot will not be so rugged as to be hard to handle around town. “It is the right segment as a city vehicle and it will accomplish as such.”

Patriot and Compass remain available, but in limited numbers. “We had about 50 sales of Compass this year whereas Patriot is more in the 10s I suppose  … but certainly Compass is really on runout and we really have not had a defined strategy with the vehicle.”

Smitherman says it is not yet clear what drivetrains are coming, but it seems unlikely the current cars’ 2.4-litre petrol and constantly variable transmission have any place going forward, but thought it would remain a four-cylinder model.

Compatriot seems set to be unveiled at the annual Detroit motor show and the NZ production will source from the United States, though Jeep owner Fiat-Chrysler is suggesting that plants in other parts of the world might ultimately contribute.

That’s not a first: the Grand Cherokee diesel has come to us from Austria and the baby Renegade, which shares a platform with a Fiat 500 variant, is out of Italy.

As for new Wrangler? “We’re still looking at that. I suspect it will be a year or two off .. it’s possibly 2018 but we are still waiting for confirmation from the factory.”

Current Wrangler, below, has enjoyed something of a resurgence this year and is now drawing up to 20 sales a month.

“It’s been very, very good business for us. It’s authentic Jeep.” Notwithstanding that amazing off-road prowess, most owners are urbanites. “You see a lot of Wranglers in the city.”

The ultimate Wrangler, the American Expedition Vehicles Brute – a mega-sized traydeck aftermarket specialist’s conversion of a Wrangler Unlimited five-door – is attracting plenty of attention, Smitherman says.

Though actual sales so far have been modest, Smitherman says the model is achieving as a high-profile attraction.

“It is always going to me a modest programme. We’ve had a bit of fun with Brute, we’ve had a bit of coverage, but it’s not going to be our core business.”

He doesn’t know too much about Jeep’s proposal to create its own utility version of the next-generation Wrangler, but agrees that this variant is required here.

“I think it is exciting, it is something that we need, something that would work well in NZ. But at this stage I don’t have a lot more information.”

Meantime, Jeep here has released four limited edition 75th Anniversary models, a 3.6-litre Grand Cherokee Limited at $84,990, a 3.0-litre at $91,990, a Wrangler Unlimited Overland 3.6-litre at $67,990 and a Cherokee Longitude 3.2-litre for $52,990. All are four-wheel-drive.