For more than 60 years, Jeep has continually built high-riding wagons with four doors and four driven wheels. Today, we know this format as the SUV—the predominant vehicle sold by every mainstream automaker in the US. Utility vehicles make great EVs, thanks to plenty of space for batteries, and compact electric motors make it easy to add all-wheel drive to just about any platform. When everything is an SUV, how does the original SUV maker stand out?

“A lot of brands that are getting into the UV [utility vehicle] space have us firmly in their crosshairs,” Bill Peffer, Senior Vice President and Head of Jeep Brand North America, told Motor1 at the media launch of the Wagoneer S in New York City. “We have the best-selling D-segment vehicle, the Grand Cherokee. We lead in PHEVs. We own the off-road segment with Wrangler. So you have the competition trying to take you off your perch.”

Alongside the launch of the Wagoneer S, Jeep announced new plug-in hybrid drivetrains for the Gladiator pickup truck, Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. The company also highlighted the flexibility of the STLA-Large platform, which underpins the all-electric Wagoneer S and can accommodate BEV, hybrid, or internal-combustion powertrains. 

Jeep Wagoneer S Trailhawk Concept 11

As Peffer explained, this flexibility in propulsion technology could help Jeep stay nimble as the auto industry figures out its EV future. “We’ve been around 83 years,” Peffer told Motor1. “Our objective is to be around another 83 years. We’ve earned a little bit of leeway to watch and see. If we don’t sell in one segment today, the Jeep brand doesn’t go away. Some of our competition, if they don’t sell a specific type of product [...] it can be difficult for them. When you buy a Jeep, you don’t have to explain it. It’s a Jeep. People know what that means.”

To Stellantis Chief Design Officer Ralph Gilles, the Wagoneer S is key to making Jeep stand out in a sea of SUVs. “It's an unexpectedly sleek Jeep,” he said. “It communicates its efficiency through its body without being outwardly EV-ish. So it'll get people that maybe wouldn't have looked at our brand.” 

Gilles doesn’t seem worried about other SUVs taking a bite out of Jeep’s style. “I've watched our competitors use trapezoidal wheel arches to, let’s say, Jeep-ify their vehicles,” he said. “Some of them are not [off-road] capable at all, but they look to be. Ours are still engineered by the same people that make our very aggressive off-road vehicles. The potential is built into every Jeep that we make. So we're not worried about competition.”

The next trick, for Gilles and his team, will be to devise a new type of vehicle for others to copy. “We're always hunting white space,” he told Motor1. “We were famous for that, inventing segments years ago. And a lot of people have glommed onto segments we created back in the day. It's annoying to us. So of course, what do I do? I tell my designers, let's find new ones.”

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