Reservations. Thought it would be a nice word to go with a car that’s named after Native Americans. I am talking of the Jeep Cherokee of course. But we don’t want to see Jeeps corralled in a country like India, belonging to the garages of a select few. The very word Jeep itself is approachable, friendly and blue-collar; it’s the name of everyman’s dependable and tough automobile.
But sadly, if Fiat-Chrysler wants to bring the initial lot of Jeeps into India as CBUs and, as Fiat officials vehemently say “It’s premium” then it goes against the grain of what Jeeps stand for. Towards the end of next year, Fiat-Chrysler will be shipping in the Grand Cherokee, the Wrangler and the four-door Wrangler Unlimited. Agreed they don’t have any choice but to import them, but for sure, they won’t be cheap and they will compete against the Germans in India. Again, company officials can say that there is no competition for a vehicle like the Wrangler, but heck, if I am going to pay Rs 20-odd lakh for it, I sure will scout around.
Till Fiat-Chrysler gets its act together on Jeep’s future in India, the CBUs will be the mainstay. The Grand Cherokee, according to officials, has been the star of their lineup, doing exceedingly well in most markets. So there is some potential there. However, Jeep as a brand is more functional than premium, more workaday jeans than a Hugo Boss suit. And in India especially, Jeeps are CJs. For us Jeeps are what we see in rural areas, vehicles that don’t distinguish between lives and livestock. For many of us, the word Jeep goes with other words like mofussil, rural, tough, dependable and transport. The members of Jeep Thrills however may think otherwise, but they are hardcore enthusiasts who probably have ‘JEEP’ tattooed in their muscular arms!
Anyway, the point I am making is that there is a disconnect between what Jeep stands for internationally and what we think of it in India. Fiat-Chrysler has a tough job ahead if they cannot manage this disconnect. Especially if we consider that in the near future, we can look at more affordable vehicles which will proudly wear the seven-slat grille. The current Patriot and Compass look good to me and hopefully they will be assembled in India for other right-hand drive markets as well. And maybe sometime in the future, the model that is a real Jeep – hardcore and bare-basic, an equivalent of the Land Rover Defender, if you please – should be made in India. This is the J8 model – if you don’t know what it’s, just Google it, it’s awesome. Now that’s what you’d call a Jeep – I have no reservations in saying that!