The Land Rover Writer

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Zut Alors - Une Jeep Francaise?

Just like Land Rover, ownership of Jeep has become a sort of holy grail for automobile companies. Regardless of the corporate parent, the two marques seem to "Carry On, Jeeves," with their own enthusiasts bolstering sales and building brand awareness.

Now the rumors abound that Renault, and its partner Nissan, are toying with making a bid for Jeep from Chrysler. This will complete a circle.

Renault once sold a lot of cars here, with the Dauphine model in the '60's, but it's propensity to overheat and blow head gaskets reduced sales over time. Even though the cars got a lot better - the Renault 5, 12, 16, 17, 18, Fuego - and sold very well in Europe, they just did not capture American hearts. By the '70's, Renault was hiring USAC race drivers like Bobby and Al Unser for tv and print ads extolling the virtues of the Renault 12. In the '80's, Renault bought up the remnants of American Motors, which included Jeep.

One problem for Renault was the dealer network, a small collection of out-of-the-way dealers in smaller markets. When they showed up in major cities the dealers combined them with other makes; they rarely showed up in stand-alone locations. Renault had visions of American Motors dealers now selling Renaults, Jeeps, and the remaining line of American Motors, the Eagle.

Eventually Renault produced the Alliance and the Encore, two cars oriented to the American market. They sold in modest numbers but never broke through. Eventually Renault sold off the remaining American Motors assets - and Jeep - to Chrysler.

The opportunities presented by Jeep - like Land Rover - to larger manufacturers lie in their name recognition, established technology, enthusiast base, and name recognition. It's very alluring to a succession of owners; in recent decades, BMW, Ford and now Tata have adopted Land Rover.

Could there be some elan in Jeep's future? It would be interesting to see some of Nissan's successful engineering incorporating Jeep's 4WD experience. Renault rescued Nissan and made it successful again; maybe together they will work their magic on Jeep.

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