After posting sales gains that most automakers would sell their souls for, Jeep’s skyrocketing climb hit the upper limits of the atmosphere in September, with sales dropping by 3 percent compared to the same month a year ago.
Maybe the Jeep brand isn’t bigger than Jesus. With the new vehicle market cooling off and two of its oldest — but still strong-selling — models being pared down to one, Jeep needs to branch out to keep the momentum going.
It has products up its sleeve — a Wrangler pickup and $140,000 luxo-ute to name a couple — and has factories planned for developing nations everywhere, but Jeep could reap a sales reward if it stopped screwing up in one obvious but overlooked market.
With the exception of the American Southwest, Australia seems tailor-made for the Jeep brand. There’s warm temperatures, beaches, desert, and a patriotic thirst for off-roading and vehicles that buck the norm. Hell, the place is nearly all rural.
And yet, Jeep sales are dwindling to pathetic levels Down Under. What went wrong at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia?
For starters, the company was rocked by a scandal, with FCA Australia suing former Jeep boss Clyde Campbell for allegedly misusing $30 million in funds during his three-year stint (2010-2013). His successor Pat Dougherty, stepped down (or was pushed out) in August, two years into his three-year contract.
In 2015, a record-setting year for Australian new vehicle sales, Jeep saw its sales tumble 19.7 percent. That’s a tally of 24,418 Jeep vehicles for the whole year. The last time the U.S. recorded a monthly sales figure that low was in 2010. Australian Jeep sales in the first half of this year are down 51 percent. Is it a hemisphere thing? What goes up in America goes down in the outback?
FCA Australia’s newest boss doesn’t think so, and feels he knows exactly what the brand’s problem is. According to the Aussie publication Drive, Steve Zanlunghi claims the brand’s marketing is all off, and says he wants to reclaim the historically tough, go-anywhere appeal that has drawn customers — military and civilian — to Jeep from Day 1.
“It’s not a cute brand,” Zanlunghi told reporters this week. “It’s not a funny brand. It’s not luxury. It’s not pretentious.”
A new ad campaign is poised to launch, one that takes the place of a panned commercial that had Australians incredulously asking “You bought a Jeep?”
“I tell you I wasn’t terribly happy with what some of the direction I saw most recently,” Zanlunghi said. “If we don’t understand what the brand is, then how do we expect dealers to understand it and ultimately customers, do they know what it is? So I put together a manifesto for what the Jeep brand here is Australia and presented it to our creative agency and they get it, and then to the national sales company and they get it and finally to the dealers and they get it and they’re on board.”
Australia hasn’t escaped the SUV/crossover craze sweeping the planet, with SUV sales up nearly 16 percent last year. Market share for utility vehicles is closing in on percentages seen in the U.S. If Jeep Australia stops shooting itself in the foot, there’s gold to be found in them there hills.
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]