The New "Mini Size Jeep" Has a Chance of Winning in Japan

By Masahiro Nakagawa : Reporter of Toyokeizai
September 27,2015
Masahiro Nakagawa
Reporter of Toyokeizai

Masahiro was born and raised in Yokohama, Japan. He earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in English and international relations at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. During his study at TUFS, he also studied abroad at the University of California, San Diego for an academic year.
Masahiro joined Toyo Keizai Inc. in 2012 and has been covering automotive, machine tools and robotics industries as a staff writer. He constantly gets a chance to go abroad to visit exhibition shows and manufacturing plants, and to interview executives from foreign firms.

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Flagship model of "Jeep Renegade"

The "Jeep", which was born in the United States, is said to be synonymous with SUVs. The most compact model in its history was unveiled in Japan.

On September 5, FCA Japan, the Japanese corporation of Western carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, released the "Jeep Renegade", the first compact SUV, as a Jeep. It features a design where drivers can "feel the cuteness" (according to FCA Japan President Pontus Häggström) while inheriting the Jeep tradition of round headlights and a 7 slot grill arranged between them.

However, the Renegade is not just smaller than all of the Jeep vehicles up to this point. It is the first jointly developed car of FCA, which was born last January with the integration of management in the old Fiat and old Chrysler companies, and it can be said that it is, in a way, a symbol of this integration.

The platform is led by the old Fiat, which specializes in small cars, and the old Chrysler team worked on the design. The Fiat side worked on the design of the related car "Fiat 500X", which will be released in Japan in October.

"Made in Italy" for Japan

"Fiat 500X" will be released in Japan in October.

So far Jeep has been a registered trademark of the old Chrysler, and most of these vehicles were genuine "American cars" which were produced in the United States.

However, the center of production of the Renegade is the old Fiat plant in Italy, and vehicles for Japan are "Made in Italy". A new plant in Brazil has started to be built for the Americas, and from now on there will also be joint production with Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. in China.

Jeep global sales reached the staggering milestone of 1 million units for the first time in 2014, and strategic models are introduced in the midst of change.

During the last decade, Jeep expanded its product group to meet demand. There are vehicles like the "Wrangler" for those who like to go off road, the luxury vehicle "Grand Cherokee", which many have transferred to from German vehicles, and the medium-size "Cherokee" to capture the premium market segment.

Under these circumstances, Mr. Klause Busse, who serves as Vice President Interior Design at FCA US, says that "The lineup lacked youthfulness and fun."

The person who led the interior design of the Renegade was a 24-year old designer who had just joined the company when development began. Said Busse, "There were risks in appointing a new person, but the benefits were greater because we could incorporate a sense of innocence. Of course, myself and other veterans made course corrections to make sure the design wasn't "too crazy"."

The interior of the Renegade has a unique design which stands out, and has features such as air conditioning vents with robot-like eyes and handles on the front of the passenger seat. 

Japan's SUV market doubled last year

FCA Japan President Häggström showed confidence with the expansion into Japan, saying that "There is strong demand for small SUVs all around the world. More than ever it is possible to acquire a wide range of customers in terms of age, income and gender." Sales of Jeep in Japan have continued to record highs since 2011, and sales of 6692 units were recorded in 2014.

The company is developing models in each segment from mid to large-sized, and this time a long-awaited small-sized car is introduced. Leveraging the Renegade, the company is aiming for record sales this year.

According to the research firm IHS Automotive, sales of all SUVs in Japan in 2014 have nearly doubled to 550,940 units (including Light vehicles) compared to the previous year. This is the first time sales have exceeded 500,000 units since 2000. The vehicles that led the expansion of the market were the Honda "Vezel" and Suzuki "Hustler". Mazda started off strong and launched the "CX-3" in February this year. With imported cars, the Mercedes-Benz "GLA class" is gaining popularity.

As President Häggström says when "This model (the Renegade) is the most urban-oriented model in our current group of products", the image of the Renegade and Jeep models so far differ a little. How far will Jeep go in getting users that have never touched those vehicles until now?