Jeep CEO Mike Manley Sits Down with BoldRide
If you have been paying any attention to BoldRide in the last year, we’re fans of what the folks at Jeep are up to. From diesel powertrains, to straight-up track-ready SUVs, they have had few, if any misses in the Fiat-owned era. Perhaps this affection stems from the fact that I am a Jeep owner, and hail from New England, where Jeeps are outnumbered only by Subarus. Regardless, of our loyalties, we were recently given the opportunity to speak with the CEO of Jeep, the appropriately named Mike Manley. At a recent conference at MIT (more on that later this week), we sat down with the Jeep boss to talk diesels, Wranglers, and the future of the brand. BoldRide: How much of the decision to bring diesel to the Grand Cherokee was listening to Jeep owners (forums) and how much was looking at general market trends? Mike Manley: As you know we had it in Grand Cherokee and Liberty in the past. I had always looked for a way to bring diesel back. And what we have now is a convergence of technologies now that the tech to meet Euro standards and US standards have converged which means we can bring it here cost-effectively. The reaction has been phenomenal BR: How much did the price of diesel effect that decision? MM: If we had not already packaged it for Europe the decision to bring it to the US was much harder. Diesel powertrains obviously have a premium. We wanted to keep that small¬– $2300, which isn’t massive.
BR: How is the tradeoff of mass versus efficiency perhaps looked at differently at Jeep?
MM: The equation of mass vs. efficiency is broader than just pure mass it’s so much more complicated. There is no silver bullet, you’ll see weight reduction, improved aero, improvements in powertrains. There will be gains in little things everywhere.
If you look at high strength steels and plastics, we can make vehicles lighter, while making them strong enough to continue to be trail rated. Automakers have employed features like aluminum and much more.
BR: The trend in the market as a whole is more car-based “soft-roaders,” how does Jeep appease those broad market demands, while staying true to Jeep’s core buyers?
MM: The thing that keeps us true is the trail rating a vehicle cannot be trail rate unless it meets some requirements. We have benchmarks, and we deploy new technology to continue to meet those requirements.
If you look at the Cherokee, we were able to use 9 speed trans, 2 speed PTU, rear disconnect, rear lockers to create the car we need. Now I don’t have to burden every vehicle with those off-road features, but can enjoy all of the attributes that they want.
BR: Speaking of Cherokee, how did your team arrive at its revolutionary styling?
MM: We knew we needed to build a vehicle that would break through what is a very very crowded market. Liberty only had 3-4 percent share. The market was dominated by import brands, but we wanted to develop a vehicle that was relevant for today, but would live in the market for the duration of its life cycle.
It needed to have clear jeep styling DNA, so that people could see its heritage, but we needed to make sure this vehicle would break through. Not just from a technology perspective because it will, and not just from a fuel economy perspective, because it will, but from a styling point. We asked our designers to do that; they came up with a vehicle that we hope that be relevant for the life of its generation.
BR: As a Jeep Guy, I’d be remiss if I did not ask the following– when can we see a Diesel Wrangler?
MM: The success of JGC’s diesel is fundamental in determining if we put a diesel engine in other Jeep vehicles. We estimated that around 10-15 percent would be diesel in JGC. The initial feedback is that we have underestimated that. We’ll know more with Q3 and Q4 sales numbers to see how the JGC diesel performs, and that will dictate how we proceed with bringing diesel into the other vehicles.
BR: Diesel aside, what hurdles does your team encounter in developing the next Wrangler in our current automotive market?
MM: I wouldn’t call them hurdles, but there are certain things you have to do. It has to be a Wrangler, and that means in every sense of the word. It has to look like a Wrangler. We could put a 30-year old Jeep next to a Wrangler and you know that they are from the same family. It has to have that clear style link.
Second, I think if we got the capability wrong, I’m pretty sure I would not be able to leave my house. We’re very, very focused on enhancing capably. We’re looking at things like body on frame, but it also needs a continued focus in fuel economy, so that means things like weight, aero, and powertrain.
I’m sure that our team will stay very true to what Wrangler means but any changes are relevant.
BR: How do you see the more basic (and for Jeep owners, that’s a complement) 4x4 powertrain system moving into the future?
MM: We have to make sure we keep off road guys happy so that means we have to be careful with the tech that we has to built for purpose, it has to be rugged, but it also has to be easily understood because it is going to be worked on. The thing with Wrangler is that for many, getting it out of the factory is the starting point so we have to make sure that Wrangler can be a canvas, if you’d like, for those enthusiasts to make their own creation. So all of those things have to be carefully considered.
When we updated the interior recently, we had to be very careful that we had to be careful of the technology that we put in there, the sophistication of the interior because it had to be true to the vehicle that it was in. You still had to take the doors off, you still had to be able to put the windscreen down and take it apart and wash it out. And the same thing goes for the 4x4 systems, those more sophisticated systems may not be right for the wrangler. There may be a version of wrangler for where it is applicable, but we have to provide those very robust 4x4 solutions.
BR: How much interaction is there with the aftermarket of the Jeep community?
MM: There’s; a lot of discussion with aftermarket. Sometimes shows, but sometimes more formal. We launched this year Jeep performance parts because we have our own in house guys and MOPAR guys that had their own solutions that they wanted to explore for Wrangler. But that is not so say we don’t have a dialogue with other aftermarket companies. A lot of the time they are making inquiries about future products so that they can stay relevant in the aftermarket as we update our products. They have their place, Jeep Performance Parts will do very well I think competing with all of these companies, because they are developed by Jeep for Jeep.
BR: How does Jeep build a safe vehicle while still adhering to the brand’s rugged core?
MM: The fist thing is every vehicle has to meet all the safety regs that is not negotiable. It has to meet those and exceed those safety regs. There are certain things that make a wrangler a wrangler, the fold down screen taking the doors off, the open-air experience. Those things are possible because of the Wrangler’s roll cage. Priority is #1 safety, #2 is to be true to Wrangler. In some respects it’s not a dilemma, because out team is so in love with Wrangler that they are constantly looking for solutions and welcoming the process. That’s how the business has moved on. It’s a given.
Image source: George Kennedy for BoldRide.com