Last month, Jeep uncorked the champagne. The brand announced on September 6 that it had sold its five millionth Wrangler, its iconic off-road SUV, to someone in New Jersey. Five million Jeep Wranglers (and counting). That’s enough to give one to every single person in Alabama.
The party appears to have been cut short, by Bloomberg and others. After Jeep reported its third-quarter sales in October, which saw the brand’s ninth consecutive quarterly decline in units sold, the outlet decided it was time to ask the question: Has Jeep lost touch with its customer base? Those fighting words actually aren’t from Bloomberg itself, but from Mark Kudla, a former director of product planning at Fiat Chrysler (Jeep’s parent company before it became Stellantis), who now works for NorthStar Vision, an automotive consulting firm.
“Their portfolio has lost touch with the mainstream consumer, and therefore the whole Jeep portfolio is less attractive,” Kudla said. Additionally, Alexander Edwards, president of branding research firm Strategic Vision, told Bloomberg, “[Jeep is] not supposed to be this thing that is more than most new vehicle buyers’ median salaries. It doesn’t send the right message.”
There are two big developments leading to these gripes. First, the Jeep Wrangler, which has cultivated an image of ruggedness while staying affordable, had an average transaction price of around $59,000 in September, compared to about $48,000 for all new vehicles, per Cox Automotive. Second, Jeep has been moving upmarket in recent years with the reintroduction of the Wagoneer brand as a luxury play (the top-of-the-line Grand Wagoneer starts with an introductory MSRP of $91,140, so with fees and dealer markups, you’re looking at a six-figure price).
This could be seen as concerning news, but there’s also some context that gets left out. First, let’s take a look at two of the Jeep Wrangler’s biggest competitors: the Ford Bronco and the Toyota 4Runner. Current year-to-date sales of the Wrangler through the end of the third quarter in the United States add up to 126,551 vehicles. Meanwhile, the Bronco only racked up 91,468 units while the 4Runner tallied 86,594.
Part of that might be because of the fact that, while the average transaction price is increasing, the Wrangler can still theoretically be had for less than these competitors. The MSRP for a two-door 2024 Wrangler starts at $32,095, and a four-door starts at $36,095. The 2024 Bronco tops that with a starting MSRP of $39,130, and the 4Runner beats them all with a 2023 model starting from $40,155. Of course, that’s not including fees and dealer markups — but if you compare them all by MSRP, you can see it’s not so bad over in Jeep land. They nevertheless made our list of cars that are still affordable in the currently inflated market.
Then there’s the Wagoneer predicament. Bloomberg takes the biggest shot at Jeep through this luxury offshoot, headlining the story by pointing out the brand’s “jump to $100,000 SUVs.” But as our writer Benjamin Hunting, who owns a 1987 Grand Wagoneer and test drove the new Grand Wagoneer upon its release, made clear, the original Grand Wagoneer was “a stealth symbol of wealth among the well-heeled owners.” Yes, the modern-day six-figure prices are tough to stomach, but that model was never meant to appeal to the economy buyer, even in the good ol’ days. And besides, Jeep has made a conscious effort to separate the entire new Wagoneer lineup from their core offerings: not only are they siloed off on their website, but on the exterior of the SUVs, the company simply labeled them “Wagoneer” instead of branding them “Jeep Wagoneer.”
Jeep is facing tough competition, declining sales and a tricky shift to electrification, there’s no doubt about it. But have they lost touch with the average buyer? They have a long way left to fall (and prices have a long way left to rise) before that happens.
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