The vast majority of Jeep’s line up manages to sound like a character list for a Clint Eastwood cowboy film; Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, Patriot and Compass are names meant to evoke images of gritty desert landscapes and getting back to grips with nature. I guess for a car brand whose focus is on off-road vehicles and stamps ‘Trail Rated’ on it’s vehicles this is by no means a bad naming strategy, but for many buyers it is the chunky looks and image of the brand that sells the vehicles.
I have already spoken about the shift that Jeep has undergone in terms of product positioning (well at least in Europe where it was traditionally seen as a luxury marque), but given that the latest crop of Jeep and Chrysler vehicles appear to be capable of batting it out with the class best, it seems that there is potential for a new flagship for the brand. Although the old Commander model was indeed large and chunkily styled, it always lacked a certain something (and not just a half decent interior). It seems that Fiat (current parent of the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep) brands) has wised up to the fact that Jeep’s sell on this nostalgic image suggested by it’s product names; the reintroduction of the Cherokee nameplate in the US has been controversial but also seems fitting, and rumour has it that this new flagship may reintroduce another well-loved name plate from Jeep’s history – Grand Wagoneer.
Most readers from Europe won’t be familiar with the Grand Wagoneer but it has a loooong history in the States, majorly because it ran with minimal changes for a whole 28 years! Originally just called the Wagoneer, the car was one of the first off road vehicles to be focused on passenger carrying as opposed to plain functionality and ability off the beaten track. From what was originally a relatively spartan vehicle, features like leather seats, electric seats and air conditioning filtered through the GW’s model years and made the car a relatively luxurious proposition for customers throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Compared to modern standards the interior and ancient engines are far behind the pace, but the Grand Wagoneer has always had a strange appeal for me…I clearly have a big thing for SUV’s and owning a piece of the sector’s history is something I would love. An original Range Rover offers similar levels of nostalgia but it’s relative common-ness in these parts means that the Jeep would be a more exciting prospect. Unfortunately the Grand Wagoneer was never available in the UK and even in the US decent examples are becoming a rare find; the youngest cars are now over 20 years old and command high values because of their storied history and classy image.
Using a nameplate with such strong emotional ties could be a risk for the reinvigorated Jeep brand, but if they produce a model as competitive as the current Grand Cherokee (and resist using wood trim on the exterior) then they might just have a winner on their hands…