Jeep Cherokee still delayed, dealers restless

27 Oct 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Jeep Cherokee still delayed, dealers restless
Jeep Cherokee

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2014 Cherokee now at least two months late New Cherokees stacked up around Toledo for transmission fix Leaves Jeep without compact crossover as sales boom


With each passing day, Chrysler dealers are growing more nervous about lost sales because the 2014 Jeep Cherokees still hasn’t arrived.

Company officials have told dealers the long-delayed Cherokee will be in their showrooms by the end of this month after problems with its new nine-speed transmission are fixed.

But that’s at least two months late for a strategically crucial compact crossover SUV that Jeep expects will become its best-selling product.

Right now, I know I could sell Cherokees fast and furious, said David Kelleher, a member of Chrysler’s national dealer council and a dealer in Philadelphia. We’ve written some orders on some pending cars that we have coming and these people want their cars.

U.S. new car and truck sales on track for their best year since 2007 and compact crossover SUV are one of the hottest segments of the market. Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealers are worried they are losing in the segment where Honda’s CR-V and Ford’s Escape are dominating. They haven’t had a product in the segment since the Jeep Liberty was discontinued about a year ago.

We are going to have a big wave of these Cherokees coming, said Chuck Eddy, a dealer near Youngstown, Ohio, and vice chairman of Chrysler’s national dealer council. We are excited about ramping that up and getting that hole plugged.

Chrysler actually built 9,430 Cherokees as of Aug. 31 but hasn’t shipped any to dealers.Because the plant in Toledo can make as many as 800 Cherokees per day, the number stacked up there could have more than doubled by now.

The automaker is storing the Cherokees at parking lots across Toledo, ranging from a site adjacent to its assembly plants to at least two lots that appear to be railroad depots.

Last Wednesday, dozens of Cherokees were driven into a lot called Ottawa South, a rail yard operated by Ann Arbor Railroad. Shuttle vans circled the lot to pick up drivers as they dropped off the vehicles.

Chrysler has said that the vehicles are getting a recalibration of their nine-speed transmissions jointly developed by Chrysler and ZF Group and produced by Chrysler in Kokomo, Ind.

Company officials have assured dealers and the media that the problem can be resolved by a reflash of the software controlling the gear-shifting commands.

What’s troubling dealers is that the company has known about the calibration issue since at least May.

In late July, Chrysler said it had discovered a way to improve the calibration of the transmission and said Cherokees would be in showrooms by September.

Instead, Chrysler laid off 500 workers for a week in late September so it could slow production. The automaker still hasn’t started shipping a Cherokee and won’t say when shipments will begin.

It’s complicated, Chrysler said. This is the world’s first application of a highly technical nine-speed transmission; on top of that, it is being mated to two new engines and three complex 4-by-4 systems, it said in a recent statement.

Impatient shoppers have lots of options

Chrysler hosted a test-drive program for the media a month ago near Los Angeles. Journalists drove the Cherokee through steep, winding canyon roads and wrote dozens of positive reviews that are generating interest among buyers.

If those customers are impatient, they have plenty of competing compact crossovers to consider.

I worry that this guy we talked to a couple of weeks ago, or this other guy that we talked to on Labor Day weekend. will go buy another product, said Eddy, the vice chairman of Chrysler’s national dealer council.

Many dealers say they will be patient because it is far better for Chrysler’s reputation if the company fixes the problem before people buy them.

I don’t want to sell 35 Cherokees in a month and have 34 come back to the service department the next month, Kelleher said.

But coming off several other delayed product launches, there’s growing concern that Chrysler’s trouble with the Cherokee is a symptom of a larger problem.

In the summer of 2012, sales of the Dodge Dart began slowly because the majority of Darts the company was producing in Belvidere, Ill. had manual transmissions when Americans prefer automatics.

Just last week, Chrysler said decided to cut production of its Viper SRT super car because sales have been lower than expected.

Bob Shuman, owner of Shuman Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Walled Lake, said Chrysler is just getting a bad rap for trying to improve quality. Shuman adds that other automakers often work through issues when they launch new cars.

Ford hit several snags in launching the Ford Fiesta in 2010 and the Focus in 2011. Earlier this year, dealer shipments of the Lincoln MKZ were delayed several months.

Chrysler, which has quality challenges from before its 2009 bankruptcy, has shown modest improvement in several third-party quality surveys. Under Fiat, Chrysler has invested heavily into quality improvement programs and has adopted Fiat’s World Class Manufacturing process.

I think the Cherokee is going to be a winner, Shuman said. I don’t really think its delay affects the long-term success.


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