The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers - Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more. The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee. Why? Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.
Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show. The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day. It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.
The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA. American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable. In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family, the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.
Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan. This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series. Audi did not stray from its own winning formula. Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel. Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.
The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP). The high output goes in the S3 model. The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.
The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car. Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller. It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.
One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4. A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.
Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard). With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?
Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale. Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is. Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle. This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek. In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019″. So Jeep has not taken this path lightly. It is a calculated step.
What is so polarizing about the Cherokee? First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced. The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go. The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.
While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial. Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders. Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance. The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.
Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart. It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems. The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon. Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg. The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.
Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.
When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000′s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”. That may be the case with the new Cherokee. A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing. So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee. It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success. It begins production in April 2013.
Award Winner Gets Major Changes After Only Three Years The 2012 Grand Cherokee has been arguably the best affordable “real” SUV on the market since the latest generation was launched for the 2011 model year. The Grand Cherokee was so good that its owners rated it higher enough against its competition to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2011 and 2012 AND AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award in 2011 and 2012! This sweep in these tough-to-win owner awards is testament to the excellence of the Grand Cherokee.
Developed in Time of Hardship The 2011 Grand Cherokee was developed during the dark days of the reign of Cerberus Capital Management. Their ownership of Chrysler steered the firm to the bankruptcy courts and a bailout by the U.S. and Canadian government, UAW and CAW. Ultimately, Fiat took control of Chrysler and Jeep and the firm is now prospering. It is surprising that under the eyes of Cerberus, the 2011 Grand Cherokee turned out to be such a good vehicle.
Best Gets Better Like other Chrysler products (Chrysler 300, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Ram 1500), Jeep’s product team has reinvigorated the vehicle but mostly under the skin. The front fascia is new. Taillamps are new. A couple of wheel designs are new. And the interiors are new and much more upscale. Grand Cherokee gets Chrysler’s latest iteration of its excellent and easy to use UConnect system. Gone is the 5-speed automatic transmission replaced by a silky smooth 8-speed unit. A 240HP 3.0L V6 diesel is available for the first time. So, the Grand Cherokee is a substantially upgraded version of the 2011 vehicle. And it works!
AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand. Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.
Grand Cherokee Edges Nissan Xterra for IVA Win: The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes closest to the ideal of any Premium Mid-Size SUV. The Grand Cherokee edges out the second place Nissan Xterra by 32 rating points to win in its class. Having eighty-percent or more of owners rating a characteristic ideal is outstanding. Achieving a score of ninety-percent is even more impressive. Ninety-percent or more of Grand Cherokee owners rate its ride and handling ideal. Eighty-percent or more of Grand Cherokee owners find these additional characteristics ideal: exterior size, interior lighting, passenger roominess, exterior styling, driver’s seat comfort, tires and safety features.
A Few Shortfalls – Some Could Have Been Offset by Selecting Available Options and Powertrains: About 32% of Grand Cherokee owners want better driver’s seat visibility. About 30% want better infotainment technology. These owners likely did not opt for the extra cost uConnect entertainment and information system. About 28% of Grand Cherokee owners want better power and acceleration, but only 7% would trade off power and acceleration for better fuel economy. They must not have opted for the HEMI V8. About 28% want their Grand Cherokee to be easier to get into and out of. About 25% want more distinctive wheels than now. About 24% want more interior storage compartments. About 23% of Grand Cherokee want more cargo space than now. About 15% want a softer driver’s seat than now.
You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/ideal-suvs-pickups-rated-by-owners-in-2012-iva-awards-112117/
For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact email@example.com and title your email “IVA Results”. A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.
Best in Class 2012 Premium Mid-Size SUV: Jeep Grand Cherokee
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award
Owners of the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee give the Premium Mid-Size SUV top ratings in nineteen of forty-eight characteristics measured in AutoPacific’s 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Grand Cherokee has been the Most Satisfying Premium Mid-Size SUV since it was all new for the 2011 Model Year. It has won two years in a row. The Grand Cherokee gets top marks for Rear Seat Comfort, Exterior Color, Interior Styling, Interior Materials, Interior Storage, Braking, Fuel Economy, Ride, Quietness, Interior Lighting, Cupholders, Tire Brand/Size/Appearance, Wheel Size and Style, Infotainment Technology, Price, Recyclability, Advanced Powertrain Technology, Collision Avoidance Technology, and Range. Ratings for characteristics in the Mid-Size Premium SUV Class are a bit lower than for some other categories of vehicles (many of these are based on truck chassis), so considering that a perfect score for an attribute is 5.0 rating points, a rating of 4.2 or higher can be considered more than competitive. Grand Cherokee owners rate the truck at 4.2 or higher twenty-four of the forty-eight characteristics including: Overall Satisfaction, Exterior Size, Seating Capacity, Driver’s Seat Comfort, Ease of Loading Cargo, Image, Vehicle’s Reputation, Brand’s Reputation, Exterior Color, Exterior Styling, Interior Styling, Interior Materials, Braking, Handling, Fun to Drive, Reliable/Dependable, Ride, Quietness, Quality Feeling Controls, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety Features, Safety Rating, Overall Quality, and Durability. Grand Cherokee owners rate the vehicle below 4.0 satisfaction rating points in eight categories: Ease of Getting In and Out, Flexible Seating, Fuel Economy (even though it is the highest best in the class), Range (best in class), Environmental Friendliness (tied for best in class), Price (best in class), Recyclability (best in class), and Collision Avoidance Technology (best in class). Grand Cherokee owners give the vehicle strong overall ratings that place it at the forefront of its competition.
It was about a year ago when I first got my hands on the new-for-2011 model year Jeep Grand Cherokee. Looking bigger, better and more refined than ever, the Grand Cherokee had a few nit picks that could have made it just the teensiest bit better. For 2012, Jeep decided to make a few of these changes. Let’s check ‘em out.
The Jeep Wrangler is the spiritual heart and soul of the Jeep lineup. It is a true icon, recognized far beyond automotive circles. Its mere existence lends credibility to less off-road capable brandmates ilke Patriot and Compass. After all, it can be argued that Wrangler is THE original off-road SUV. With its heritage hearkening back to the Second World War, performing its duties heroically on battlefields in both the Pacific and European theaters, the Wrangler has off-road credibility arguably matched by no one.
The all new Grand Cherokee is the top ranked Mid-Size SUV in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Research. As the class winner, its owners identify few things they would want changed, but there are a few. About 30% would like better visibility and more infotainment technology. About 25% want the Grand Cherokee to be easier to get into and out of. About 25% want it to have more power and more cargo room as well. Grand Cherokee owners most like its ride, seat comfort, exterior size and the styling of the new vehicle. Grand Cherokee handily outpoints the second place Nissan Xterra.
Willow Springs Raceway
At AutoPacific we’ve been doing a lot of EV research. A lot. So it was with a smile that we accepted the Chrysler Group’s offer to come to Willow Springs, north of Lancaster in California’s high desert. No EVs here. No range anxiety discussions. The Chrysler Group hauled a load of journalists and analysts to Willow Springs to remind us that anxiety should remain a small part of the driving experience. Exhilaration is better.
Once we were settled, Ralph Gilles, CEO, SRT Brand and Motorsports, announced that Chrysler has officially elevated its in-house performance division – the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) team – to a separate company brand to build high-performance vehicles for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. The Chrysler public relations team was on hand the let us take a few of the latest SRT vehicles for laps on the famed racetrack. Not a bad day.
Earlier this week Jeep invited us to join them at the base of the snow covered Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Our mission was to test drive the entire 2011 Jeep lineup in their element – on and off-road in the snow. Something you wouldn’t want to attempt in just any vehicle.
For 2011 there is big news! Sergio Marchionne has rattled the Jeep cage and it is definitely beginning to show in their products. All vehicles received attention; the Patriot, Compass, Liberty, Wrangler and of course the all-new Grand Cherokee.
It’s been said that Sergio loathes incentives and believes that they erode profitability and brand equity. So, instead of building vehicles to a particular price-point with the understanding that they would eventually be the least expensive, highest incentivized option for consumers – it was time to draw a line in the sand and build vehicles that people see real value in. Jeep has decided to build vehicles that consumers want to buy based on product attributes not lowest common denominator. Game on!
A few months ago Chrysler invited me to check out their 2011 refreshed Jeeps at the Chrysler Tech Center in Auburn Hills. With the thought of a Dodge Avenger rental car fresh in my head I didn’t have the highest expectations for what Chrysler was getting ready to show me. Let’s be honest, Chrysler had gone through the ringer, lost a lot of engineering talent, had multiple owners, and had the the weakest vehicle line of any major OEM in the US market. Jeep has a strong customer following and a loyal fan base to keep happy. Could Chrysler deliver a Jeep that could impress even with all of these distractions? Keep reading to find out…