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[NEWS] Analysis: Can the Jeep Avenger spur a sales revival?

Analysis: Can the Jeep Avenger spur a sales revival?

jeep avenger paris motor show 04 grill
The Jeep Avenger EV has been designed with Europe in mind

Despite a European sales slide, Jeep executives are confident the SUV brand can be reinvigorated

Jeep is having a miserable time of it recently in the UK. Sales are down a massive 69% in the first nine months of the year to just 2036 cars, according to figures from car lobby group the SMMT, as buyers are seemingly falling out of love with the Renegade and Compass, the SUV brand’s core models.

“Jeep sales in the UK are deeply disappointing,” an executive within the Stellantis-owned company admitted on condition of anonymity. 

In fact, nowhere in Europe is the iconic American brand doing really well apart from Italy, which hosts the production of both the Renegade and the Compass and accounts for half of all Jeep’s sales in the region. Sales are down across Europe by 25% to the end of August, figures from automotive lobby organisation ACEA, more than the average industry amid the chip shortage. 

“We had a lot of issues with powertrains not being adapted to the market, we had a lot of tax disadvantages and we ended up not getting the momentum we deserve,” Jeep CEO Christian Meunier told journalists at an event held in Poland on Thursday.

In the UK, Compass sales were hampered by the initial decision to build our right-hand-drive models in India, which saddled it with lower levels of tech than the market had come to expect, Meunier said. That has been rectified with the decision to move the facelifted version, which started filtering into the market earlier this year, to the Renegade factory in Italy.

Meanwhile, the high emissions of both the Renegade and Compass has partially rectified by the launch of plug-in hybrid '4xe' versions of both cars, with the effect that PHEVs accounted for 35% of all UK Jeep sales to the end of September. It wasn’t enough to  halt the slide, however.

Executives are convinced the Jeep brand, defined by the heritage-freighted Wrangler off-roader, is sound. The ‘access premium’ or ‘premium to mainstream’ middle ground it occupies gives it appeal and pricing power, or so the theory goes. The fact sales numbers are slumping is down to product, Jeep contends. 

And that's going to change from spring next year, they hope, when the first models of the new Avenger small electric SUV arrive.

This will be the first new European Jeep developed under Stellantis using a group platform following a hasty early switch from an FCA platform, elements of which underpin the electric Fiat 500.

With this, the Avenger achieves the desired Stellantis group commonality by using the second-generation of the eCMP flexible platform that underpins of the group's other small EVs, such as the DS 3 E-TensePeugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Mokka Electric

The chunky body with its protective cladding hides a bigger 54kWh (51kWh useable) battery pack to give a range of up to 242 miles. The pack, split to sit under front and back seats, has also gone into the revised e-208 and is paired to common electric motor built in France by a joint-venture company owned by Stellantis and Nidec. This way, costs are contained to the satisfaction of Stellantis CEO and fiscal hawk Carlos Tavares.

At just 4076mm long, the Avenger is a Jeep designed to resonate with younger buyers looking for something with a bit more character. 

Executives are describing it privately as the new Mini for its hoped-for ability to trigger an emotional response, albeit on backed up by the wish for a bit more practicality than a Mini offers.

“This car is going to be the game-changer,” Meunier said the event held prior to its global public unveiling at the Paris motor show on Monday.

Jeep is confident the Avenger will quickly become its best-selling car in Europe starting in 2024, its first full year of sales.

Its goal is to push European sales to 300,000, nearly double that of its best year so far in 2018, when it sold 168,652, according to ACEA. The UK will be a key market for growth but won’t get the 1.2-litre petrol version that’s earmarked for the two of the big five European markets furthest behind on electric infrastructure: Spain and Italy.

This all sets in motion the virtuous circle that drives volume. Drivers see more Jeeps on the road, triggering more sales interest in Jeep. Dealers invest more in dealerships, as they do in Italy, instead of letting them stagnate when sales do the same.

Jeep ripped up dealer contracts last year and will renew those that it wants to keep in the beginning of 2023, starting a new cycle that eventually move the brand to a direct sales model.

There are more Jeeps in the pipeline, too. The Jeep Grand Cherokee large SUV will return in the spring with a delayed plug-in hybrid model. The Renegade, launched in 2014, will stay and eventually switch to Stellantis’ new STLA small electric platform, likely before 2025. 

The Compass will eventually move to the STLA medium electric platform, enlarging in the process, according to a source in Jeep, to cover the upper end of the compact SUV segment. An electric off-roader called Recon with better on-road manners than Wrangler will arrive in 2025, as will a sleek, aerodynamic electric Jeep also on the STLA large platform and currently called the Wagoneer S. This performance machine will cover 370 miles on a charge and sprint to 62mph in around 3.5sec, Jeep estimates.

By 2030, Jeep will be fully electric in Europe, it has said.

There are hurdles. The price of the Avenger hasn’t been revealed, but at an estimated starting figure £35,000, it will be a stretch for the younger crowd that Jeep wants to attract. Aside from Italy, Jeep hasn’t really shown that it can command that extra premium among those European customers immune to its yee-haw, freedom-lovin’ brand values, particularly for its more mainstream models. The off-road capability offered by the planned 4xe version of the Avenger will probably be less of a draw for Europeans than the beefier styling that comes with it, if the production preview unveiled at Paris is anything to go by.

Jeep has always been on the cusp of European approval. With the Avenger and that magic Stellantis ingredient of unique styling with deep platform commonalities, it has a fighting chance. If it does succeed, its US fans will have to come to terms with the fact that it took electrification to bring European acceptance of this very American brand.

Jeep's rise – and slump – in Europe



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