The new Land’s End catalog features one of the great American cars, a car brand with great enduring appeal. The Grand Wagoneer. It still holds as an icon, or so the happy scene to the right shows. The car helps sell clothes, and connotes a lifestyle.
The branding question is this: If Jeep is a great brand, which it is, is it less because the Grand Wagoneer is no longer associated with it?
To quote the old Spanish maxim, no one can steal the dance you’ve danced.
That being said, Jeep misses out on the current benefit of the brand legacy by no longer selling the Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer. It was truly deluxe, and that they sell the Cherokee but not the Wagoneer is weird, frankly, and a terrible missed opportunity. Jeep pretty much invented the deluxe SUV idea in the U.S.
The car was a masterstroke; Jeep management took an old concept, their own Willys Jeep utility wagon, and turned it into the symbol of American reserved affluence. For a decade, it was the queen of the American highway, and it still commands admiration from all circles. Some friends of ours in Lake Tahoe, California, quite hip, just found a used one. Stacey and Laurent (he a resort hotel executive) even posted it on their Facebook!
There is a company that re-manufactures the Grand Wagoneer to new condition; one can really still get a “new” Wagoneer. Their contention is that the car rebuilding is actually quite inexpensive, owing to the fact that the parts are still inexpensive and the engine is easy to get to. Designers and branding folks with the new Fiat/Chrysler might want to go see his operation to begin to understand forgotten aspects of the brand’s appeal. Heck, they might want to buy his operation, and restart production.
When Chrysler’s management thinks of the meaning of the Jeep brand, they continue to make it a sort of off road “action” brand, rather than a brand that has defense department roots, and has a certain on-road utility. Truly, the Jeep was meant for difficult conditions, but the condition it was meant most to do was to be easy to fix and to take folks around the base.
First, we are glad that Jeep has survived. It’s still a great brand. But here’s what Jeep is missing, other than, of course, the Wagoneer:
- The new Jeeps look moulded, rather than forged. Certainly safety demands from unibody construction are part of the culprits here with the Step 2 kids toys look, but Jeeps still need to seem to be more steel than plastic.
- The Wagoneer was deluxe but not fancy. It was straightforward and had no gimmicks. It did not show off.
- They are comfy, but are there elements of plushness? The interesting thing about the Wagoneer was that there was a basic frame, but the carpet could be a little thick.
- New Jeeps are not that handsome: They all look too much like other Chrysler cars; the only really halfway smart looking Jeep is the Commander. Jeeps need to be carved and styled.
- Think of colors. That blue in the photo is fantastic. The other 1970s/1980s Jeep colors were equally simple. But today, the blue sold on the Grand Cherokee is called “Modern blue pearl” and it is insufficient for the job.
- Where’s the Woody? There is no woodgrained edition of any Jeep. I would bet folks would buy it if it were available. A little fake woodgrain nostalgia wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps Jeep establishes a customizing department at the factory level? (The PT Cruiser wood panels were a joke, almost cartoonish. Don’t go in that direction.)
- They need some Kaiser connection: Sort of a middle America kind of construction. Note, there is a Kaiser parts company that still sells old Jeep parts.
- Defense connection: Jeep has lost its connection to the American defense establishment, and it suffers. Is there a way for Jeep to become involved with the DoD or Army in particularl with a new or retooled model? Could Jeep come up with a fleet car that could be sold to the military that is easy to repair, cheap to maintain and inexpensive? That might give it some street credibility. The mistake is thinking that the Jeep needs to go into warfare, when really it needs to just look spiffy while the General gets driven around the base.