SUVs Are Big In China, And Jeep Is Sinking Its Dragon Claws

By Blake Z. Rong | April 26, 2012
There was once a time, future archaeologists will point to, sometime in the 1990s, Anno Domini, when impressionable humans were enamored with the idea of riding higher than everyone else. Skyward, onward their chariots rose, soaring to the heavens and taller than everyone else's. They carried the names of adventure, exploration, and exotic destinations—Explorer, Navigator, and Denali—all crisp with the scent of leather seating and Eddie Bauer trim packages with all-season tires. These were real body-on-frame trucks, mind you, rattling themselves to death on the Santa Monica Freeway and stuffed to the gills with hillock-raiding ability that, like a Mossberg 590 Persuader .410 bore 12-gauge shotgun, is one of those things that's good to have but terrifying to actually use. Yes, people were in love with SUVs. Of course, the trend fizzled out along with Duncan yo-yos, Pogs, and Arsenio Hall's career. SUVs were no more, their dusty corpses strewn across countless junkyards, and replaced by their softer, gentler cousins, the crossover. But not in China! In the Middle Kingdom, the SUV boom is just coming on strong, now that the Chinese have evolved from buying basic transportation into developing their own notions of badge snobbishness in just a few short years. Cars are officially lifestyle vehicles in China just as much as they are in any other part of the world, and Jeep is looking to capitalize on that behind a flurry of gilded dragons and Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts.
Jeep has some history in China: Beijing Jeep has been building the Cherokee under license for decades, and you can still buy a Beijing BJ2500 there if your heart is so nostalgic. That was under the dark Daimler years, however, and Chrysler's newest parent Fiat is currently setting up a partnership with Guangzhou Automobile Group to localize production of the Jeep Wrangler. A new plant is being built in Hunan, central China, to build the Fiat Viaggio, aka Dodge Dart. The plant has a capacity of 200,000 units, and Chrysler executives in China don't see how they couldn't add a few Jeeps into the mix. Well, Chrysler wants to build Jeeps in China, but it hasn't begun to seek approval to do so from the Chinese government. As it stands, Jeep is looking to expand even further, even though sales for Jeeps are strong: last year, Jeep sold 22,294 vehicles from its 110 dealerships, and it will be building 40 more by the end of this year. Overall, sales of big SUVs have increased 46 percent in China. The last time there was such growth for SUVs in America, boy bands were still a thing. It's no surprise that Jeep is banking on this growth to introduce a slew of products—the Wrangler may be the most prominent, but the Grand Cherokee will also make its way to China. For car companies still nostalgic for the low production costs and big profit margins of the 1990s, we say: put on your L.A. Lights sneakers and Starter jackets, and start heading East, because the SUV Promised Land is still there. Source: Automotive News