Short on truly new-from-the-ground-up products compared with most of its competitors, Chrysler really couldn’t afford to botch the launch of its new Jeep Cherokee into the heart of the fast-growing mid-size SUV segment in the US market. But it did.
And now Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne not only is having to make up for lost time and sales by finally getting past Cherokee production bottlenecks, but he also has felt compelled to vow that his company won’t ever make the same mistake again.
Chrysler stopped making its previous entry in the segment, Jeep Liberty, last year, losing its place against the competition, and then hold-ups related to Cherokee’s innovative nine-speed transmission put the launch several weeks behind. Cherokee is just now reaching Chrysler dealers across the country in enough volume to support the company’s lofty sales ambitions for the vehicle.
“We were naïve that it would be a seamless introduction,” Marchionne told journalists this week, according to Automotive News. But, he stressed, “What we’ve learned is that we’ll never repeat it. We’re never going to take a plant down and be out of the market for over a year. We were just naked in 2013” in the mid-sized SUV segment after dealers sold all the 2012 Liberty units last year.
Now, the company’s Toledo, Ohio, complex is churning out about 1,000 Cherokees a day, six days a week, as dealers and consumers anticipate volume availability of the new vehicle.
Meanwhile, in an effort to get it right the first time with this crucial launch, Chrysler’s advertising is taking the road less traveled again. Even for the launch of the revived Cherokee—a widely anticipated new version of an iconic SUV nameplate that disappeared for 12 years—the company has crafted an emotional, oblique approach that barely shows the Cherokee at all and fits neatly into the story-telling genre that it has used so successfully for four years.
In a 60-second TV spot that broke this week under a campaign called “Built Free,” Jeep links one scene after another of people at play, of kids cavorting and office workers feeling the nostalgia of such moments, busting out of their confined environs and pursuing their outdoorsy passions.
The backdrop is Bob Dylan and the voiceover encourages viewers to think of the new Cherokee as the key to invoking that sense of freedom. “And little by little it changed,” says the spot Jeep titled “Manifesto.” “People told you things. Where to go. What to do. What not to do. Little by little, the world started to feel smaller. Only … it isn’t. You’re still here. And you’re still you. The horizons haven’t gone anywhere.”
Kim Adams-House, Jeep’s advertising director, told brandchannel that the point of the first spot for the new Cherokee “was to provide a link from the past to the present to make sure Cherokee is in keeping with its history as a segment leader. We reached back to that time and brought it forward.”
The ad also debuts squarely in the new Chrysler tradition of shaping a brand story and making the vehicles secondary, which began with the “Born of Fire” spot featuring Eminem and the Chrysler brand in the 2011 Super Bowl. The new Cherokee ad “tells a human story that connects with consumers emotionally and resonates with them personally,” Adams-House said.
But the campaign for the crucial new Cherokee will become more product-centric over coming weeks. In coming days, Jeep will introduce a slate of 30-second spots about various attributes of the new vehicle including fuel efficiency, the segment-first nine-speed transmission, interior craftsmanship and ride quality and handling.
Cherokee is far from the only thing on Marchionne’s plate, of course; there are matters such as generally beefing up Chrysler’s product line and dealing with the United Auto Workers over a planned Chrysler IPO. Marchionne also just had to promise his fourth revival strategy in nine years for the Alfa Romeo brand.
But Cherokee is the most important new vehicle anywhere in the world for the Fiat empire right now, in part because it also will play a key role in boosting Fiat overseas, including in China. Right now, however, the future of Cherokee begins in the US.