The Trail Ahead
Jeep CEO Michael Manley talks with us about the future of his brand.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: July 6th, 2012
eep CEO Michael Manley knows how to sell cars. He’s had as much experience on the dealer end of the car business as he has on the business side. From 1992 to 1999 he worked at a few dealerships in the south of England before joining Chrysler in 2000 as U.K. director for network development.
"Grand Cherokee is one of the few vehicles in the premium SUV segment that can still go through the Rubicon.” — Jeep CEO Michael Manley
“I came into this business in probably a different route from other people, because I graduated as an engineer,” Manley told us. “But that held no interest, so I started selling cars in London. That got me into the retail side, which I enjoyed. Then I moved over to the OEM side with DaimlerChrysler, and then over to the USA.”
Manley is now the head of Jeep, a brand that finds itself walking the line between pure utility and modern luxury.
“Jeep kind of got sidelined in history,” Manley pointed out. “Other brands have wanted that capability that Jeeps had, but wanted other attributes, on-road riding handling, driving style. For us it presented a challenge of maintaining capability but appealing to that new part of the segment that emerged 10 years ago.”
That’s a tricky thing to pull off, especially with a brand so firmly grounded in utility. But with most SUVs now being used as grocery-getters rather than off-roaders, it’s a concession Jeep had to make to survive.
“With Grand Cherokee I think we showed we can get that formula right,” Manley said. “Because with the use of tech today not only can you get a great fuel-efficient vehicle with superb on-road driving dynamics, but then by applying the right technology, such as the airlift suspension, you can still be extremely capable off-road. Grand Cherokee is one of the few vehicles in the premium SUV segment that can still go through the Rubicon.”
Still, not everyone is happy with the road Jeep has been on. One typical comment from a Jeep message board reads, “A 'trail rated' Compass? Sigh. The badge has no meaning.”
“2012 and beyond, we still have a long way to go with the Jeep brand and what it’s capable of,” Manley admits. “Our challenge is to continue the momentum, and continue the product development that we’re committed to. Part of that is to focus on Jeep being our lead global brand. All of those things are going to be challenging.”
Like any good salesman, Manley is supremely confident in the future of his brand, even while he understands the challenges that lie ahead.
“There came a time when people still wanted the SUV, whether for the styling or the perception of safety, and they very much wanted more on-road driving dynamics," said Manley. “During that period partly because the tech wasn’t available then, Jeep became really focused on capability. Today we’re still very focused on that, but working with Fiat, we are now very capable of appealing to a much broader audience whilst maintaining those key attributes that still make it a Jeep.”