Jeep Cherokee – 49 years and out for midsize and stalwart
The last Jeep Cherokee rolled from the production line at Belvidere, Illinois on 28th February this year, bringing to a close production of a nameplate that stretches back across five model generations to 1974.
DRIVEN TO EXTINCTION
The original SJ Cherokees had an Australian connection, being assembled for right-hand drive configuration in Brisbane, Australia from 1981. Due to Aussie tariff regulations which defined 4x4 vehicles as having a ladder frame, local assembly of the old SJ versions continued for three years after its more modern unibody XJ replacement was launched in other world markets.
To many, the XJ was ‘the’ Cherokee. On sale for fully 18 years, total production topped over three million units. It spawned the Grand Cherokee, originally designed as its successor, and was a massively superior vehicle to its Wagoneer-based predecessor.
Not only was it over 500kg lighter, it was also 79cm shorter and 30cm narrower yet retained 90 percent of the SJ’s interior volume. With superior approach, breakover and departure angles, it was better off road. With some mods it could conquer the Rubicon Trail, but it found its match in Wolfgang Bernhard, the ex- Mercedes-Benz executive hired to slash Jeep’s cost base. One of his first actions upon arriving at Chrysler in 2000 was to green light the replacement for the XJ, the KJ or ‘Liberty’ which continued the Cherokee nameplate in most foreign markets. It sold well but always felt built down to a skinflint price.
Its successor, the KK Cherokee, never reprised this success. Where the KJ realised peak US sales of 171,000 units in 2002, the KK, introduced in 2008, never shifted more than 93,000 vehicles. It lasted in market for six years, before being replaced by the Sergio Marchionne-inspired KL model. The final iteration of the Cherokee was highly successful and did much to resurrect the reputation of the nameplate after some lean years. Running on the Fiat Compact Wide platform, it could be equipped with three different all-wheel drive systems. Early models encountered glitches with the new ZF nine-speed auto that delayed deliveries, but once the pipeline from Belvidere opened, it could hardly be satisfied.
Jeep sold 355,402 Cherokees worldwide in 2016, with the model enjoying its best year in its domestic market in 2018 with 239,437 vehicles finding owners. Sales then tailed off and Jeep idled the Cherokee’s plant indefinitely on March 1 pending negotiations with the United Auto Workers union. So the Cherokee is dead. For now. But when a nameplate carries that much equity, who’d bet against a resurrection?
CHEROKEES VS CHEROKEES
One party not so keen to see the Cherokee name revived are the Cherokees themselves. The Cherokee Nation has long campaigned for its tribal name to be removed from Jeep sport utility vehicles and has requested discussions with Jeep on “cultural appropriateness”. If the Washington Redskins NFL team and Squaw Valley ski resort can rebrand, maybe Jeep can too.
SJ (’74-’84) Solid, if unspectacular 6.0/10 XJ (’84-’02) The iconic Cherokee. Now looks tiny 7.0/10 KJ (’02-’08) The biggest seller. Why? 6.0/10 KK (’08-’14) Incremental improvement, more Jeep in DNA 7.0/10 KL (’14-’23) Saved the best until last 7.5/10
CHEROKEES VS CHEROKEES
One party not so keen to see the Cherokee name revived are the Cherokees themselves. The Cherokee Nation has long campaigned for its tribal name to be removed from Jeep sport utility vehicles and has requested discussions with Jeep on “cultural appropriateness”.
If the Washington Redskins NFL team and Squaw Valley ski resort can rebrand, maybe Jeep can too.