Jeep is emerging from a nightmare of falling sales and dealers fleeing the brand to post nine months of consecutive growth, said UK boss Steve Zanlunghi.
Sales this year are up 70 per cent and the brand posted its best first quarter performance for 10 years, said Zanlunghi, managing director, Fiat Group Automobiles UK and Ireland.
He was speaking at the UK launch of the all-new Jeep Cherokee and said the brand had come a long way “since the darkest year of 2012.” That was when 28 dealers – more than half the network – were on notice, quitting because they couldn’t make money from selling Jeeps.
Not having enough dealers to cover the country “means you can’t advertise nationally because the nearest dealer could be more than two hours away from a customer,” he told headlineauto.
“It snowballs downhill.”
Now the network is growing again and will reach 72 dealers by the end of this year, enough to give 82 per cent coverage and the network is returning to profitability. He expects Jeep sales to reach around 4,000 this year, up from some 2,200 last year, with 40 per cent of sales for the new Cherokee which is a rival for BMW X3 and Audi Q5, said Zanlunghi. Pre-launch orders are running 17 per cent ahead of target.
“Just by having 13 new dealers we will see sales grow by 36 per cent,” he said.
Zanlunghi was also disappointed to find that Jeep’s reputation was only slightly ahead that of Suzuki and Mitsubishi. “We were trying to be something we weren’t,” he explained.
The focus now is on ‘affordable luxury’ as Jeep takes on Volvo, Audi and BMW.
“We started to reboot the brand with the Grand Cherokee. We had lost our way with our core values of freedom and adventure,” he said.
The rebooting of the brand will continue next year with the launch of the Renegade, a rival to the Skoda Yeti, Nissan Juke and MINI Countryman. It will be built at Fiat’s Melfi plant in Naples and will be launched in mainland Europe before arriving in the UK and Ireland in the first quarter. “We can watch and learn from Europe before launching here,” said Zanlunghi.
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