3 questions for Jeep brand CEO Mike Manley

AP News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2015 1:31 PM

DETROIT (AP) — Jeep brand CEO Mike Manley has the unenviable goal of nearly doubling sales of the Jeep brand all over the world in the next three years.

He's banking on the rugged SUV brand's high recognition in Europe, China, Brazil and elsewhere, and some new vehicles in segments where Jeep does not now have entries to meet the goal set by his boss, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Still, it will be tough to grow from last year's record sales of just over a million to 1.9 million in 2018. It also will be difficult for Manley to pull off an encore performance of the last five years, which saw sales triple from just 337,000 in 2009.

But Manley, in an interview Tuesday at the Detroit auto show, is confident he has the tools to get the job done.

Here are three questions that Manley answered, edited for clarity and length:

Q: Your sales goal is pretty high. How do you accomplish it? Is the majority of the growth in global markets?

A: Since 2009, every single year we have continued to grow much stronger than the industry. And I think we have the opportunity to do that, particularly as Renegade (a subcompact SUV) reaches the U.S. by the end of the first quarter and finishes its global rollout by the end of the first half. Cherokee (midsize SUV) is only in its second full year, so I'm looking for that vehicle to continue to grow. There will be some additions to the portfolio. One of the major parts of the next phase will be the globalization of the industrial footprint. In the major markets of China and Brazil, for example, as a pure importer we naturally play in a very niche position. Our first plant will go on line to make the Renegade in Brazil in March. At the end of this year we will return to local manufacturing in China with Cherokee. We already made the first stage of global manufacturing with the Renegade in Europe. (Chrysler has to pay tariffs in major markets when it imports vehicles. Manufacturing locally makes it more competitive on price.) If we execute well, the 1.9 should be in our sights. The Compass and Patriot compact SUVs are next to get updates in 2016.

Q: Are low gas prices in the U.S. helping Jeep sales?

A: When we were still at $3.80 per gallon, we were still up 38 percent year over year. We ended the year up 41 percent. So our growth story was happening prior to the lows were seeing today. There's no doubt that gas prices being this low for this long have got to help. Even if it's just helping consumer confidence. I think we all notice it's a lot less money to fill up your vehicle. That helps with a better sentiment and outlook. Whether you can directly say it's moving people into SUV segments or not — my gut tells me it is. But whether it is or it isn't, I have no doubt that it's going to help at least maintain and continue a strong industry into 2015.

Q: How is the Jeep brand viewed in Europe or China? Do they know it as a tough and rugged?

A: Yes. In all senses it's a genuine global brand. It's really because of what Jeep stands for and its history. Jeep to me is a brand that has a spirit, has a connection with its customers. It's about experiencing life. It's about doing more tomorrow than yesterday. The things that Jeep stands for resonate with people. We may have to communicate it in a different way based upon the region. We may have to have different product attributes to make sure our products live up to that promise. But the fact is that fundamental spirit that Jeep stands for, in my belief, lies in everybody, regardless of where you come from.