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by Gerard Wilson
Because this series focuses on cars, not trucks, the body-on-frame, off-road-focused Jeep Wrangler will be treated separately, in the next segment. Table totals are for models/model groupings, by generation. Some totals are on the next chart in the series; in some cases, totals on one chart include cars from a prior chart.
In October of 1940, Nash Motors of Kenosha, Wisconsin introduced the Nash 600, a unit-body car (it used a reinforced body shell instead of a separate body and frame). Chrysler and Lincoln had used unit-body construction, but had gone back to body-on-frame; Nash President George Mason, a pioneer in many ways, took a big risk on unit-body, switching completely over in 1949. The Hudson Motor Company also switched completely to unibody construction in 1948.
In 1955, Nash and Hudson merged to form the American Motors Corporation (AMC), still 100% unibody. The three major American producers, Chrysler, Ford, and GM, did not use unibody construction until many years later; Ford and GM would not switch over completely for many years, while Chrysler made the switch in 1960.
Going back to 1940, the U.S. Army tried out four very small four wheel drive prototypes it had commissioned, should the United States be drawn into the European war. They chose a modified version of the American Bantam design, but because edge-of-bankruptcy Bantam was too small to produce the needed quantities, they also awarded contracts for manufacturing to Ford and Willys-Overland. Only Willys kept making Jeeps after the war, adding civilian versions to supplement military production; they were the only domestic producer of light four wheel drive vehicles, a tiny but reliable niche for decades, and they licensed the design worldwide.
Willys was purchased by failing automaker Kaiser in 1954; caught by a GM-Ford price war, Kaiser wanted to escape into a niche, while gaining Jeep’s easier-to-defend international sales. Kaiser Jeep lasted from 1956 to 1970; in 1970, AMC (the combined Hudson and Nash) purchased Jeep from Kaiser, still in a low-sales niche relatively free of competition, with no need for costly annual styling updates.
Renault started acquiring AMC in 1980, seeking a piece of the huge North American market for their cars; at the time, Jeep sales were still minimal. That would change, thanks in large part to engineering chief Francois Castaing.
AMC created the first modern North American four wheel drive car (the first was the Jeffery Quad) in 1980, the AMC Eagle; but the XJ Cherokee was the first 4x4 hit. Cherokee, a lightweight but high-capacity unit-body 4x4 wagon with the comforts of a regular car, was the model for all the RAV4s, CRVs, and Escapes which followed, but could outdo any of them off-road. Other SUVs, including numerous Jeeps, had tried, but they were taller, heavier, and short on comfort and efficiency.
Meanwhile, AMC’s cars were dying on the vine, and Renault, rather short-sightedly, sold its interests to Chrysler in 1987, making Chrysler the inheritor of all of the Nash, Hudson, AMC, and Willys history.
These tables covers the unit-body Jeep vehicles built by Chrysler since its acquisition of AMC. They do not cover production of the body-on-frame Wrangler, nor pre-Chrysler XJ production (except for early 1987). No source of official data has been located, so all entries in this table are compiled from published data on monthly and weekly production, coupled with published changeover dates.
The Cherokee, body-code XJ, was a pathfinding vehicle, a reinforced unibody 4 wheel drive utility with passenger-car characteristics. Developed by AMC, it went into production in 1984 and (with Chevy Blazer) spurred the trend toward light utilities and crossovers, away from cars. AMC built 398,958 Cherokees between 1984 and 1987.
The second-generation Cherokee was almost ready to replace the original, when company leaders realized that it was upscale enough to accompany the first generation rather than replace it. Being part of Chrysler meant having more production facilities; so Cherokee continued in the old plant, while the new “Grand Cherokee,” originally slated to be the “new Cherokee,” started up in Detroit. Grand Cherokee was an instant hit, easily surpassing Cherokee’s old numbers, but Cherokee continued with healthy sales anyway; Grand Cherokee was a major innovation, the unibody luxury utility, and was quickly copied.
For 1999, the Grand Cherokee (body code WJ rather than ZJ) received a new structure, suspension, driveline changes, electronics architecture, and interior upgrades to stay competitive, and it almost matched the volume of the first generation. It was the first Chrysler vehicle with an electronics bus instead of individual wires to various warning lights and indicators (e.g. turn signals), and was redesigned with higher quality in mind. It initially surpassed the sales of the first generation.
For 2002, the Liberty was launched; it was intended as the next generation of Cherokee, and again used a reinforced unibody, with similar pricing. In comparison to other small utilities, it offered superior off road capability, but the offset was more weight and higher fuel consumption. It still sold well. The name change in the United States and Canada was due to executives’ thinking that they would run both Cherokee and Liberty together, as they had with Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, but XJ sales flagged somewhat while Liberty took off; so the old XJ was dropped. Liberty remained Cherokee outside North America, due to the delayed changeover.
In 2005, the Grand Cherokee was still iconic, but faced competitors on all sides. The 2005 edition, coded WK, was larger, stronger and more powerful than before, and offered a selection of powertrain options, but was not as successful. Many were disappointed by the different feel of the vehicle; the light feel of the older Cherokees and Grand Cherokees was replaced by a heavy, sturdy feel, part of Mercedes’ emphasis on “feeling safe.” The suspension and body were redesigned to be shared with the Mercedes ML, raising the cost of production but cutting away many of the attributes that brought buyers to the Grand Cherokee in the first place. After a strong start in 2005, sales declined rapidly; but the unprecedented poor sales of 2009-2010 was probably attributable to the recession and Chrysler's own financial problems.
For 2006, Chrysler enlarged the Grand Cherokee to accommodate 3 rows of seats on the same 2.8 meter wheelbase, calling the resulting vehicle the Commander; it was more expensive and looked more luxurious, but had extremely hard seats. The third row was cramped, but the vehicle was lighter than body-on-frame three row utilities. Slow sales prompted Chrysler to offer a two seat version with more space than the Grand Cherokee. Adding together the WK Commander and Grand Cherokee, volume was below the WJ. Commander was, however, an important step in developing flexible manufacturing.
The Compass and Patriot, body code PM (2007-2014), shared a common platform which also included Dodge Caliber. The Patriot was styled as a squared off wagon, Cherokee-style, and had both Freedom Drive I and II from the beginning; the Compass was a hatchback designed for on-road use, with all wheel drive but no “Trail Rated” model. They were relatively low priced and easy on fuel, and had relatively sturdy construction and good ground clearance for their segment, though they were no match for Cherokee.
Launched in 2008, the KK Liberty was a bit larger than the KJ, in an attempt to improve the ride quality. Its main selling point was off road capability at a modest price, more civilized than the Wrangler or the KK, but it actually had less capability than KJ. The looks were made harder and more “masculine.” Sales continued to decline; the production spike in 2012 was intended to provide dealers with enough vehicles to endure a long period with no product in that space, as the Liberty’s replacement, the 2014 Cherokee, would not be built until summer 2013.
For 2011, the Grand Cherokee was relaunched alongside a Commander replacement, Dodge Durango. The suspension was greatly upgraded, and the “Mercedes heavy feel” was diminished; sound insulation was built up; and materials were dramatically improved. A new Pentastar V6 engine provided a great deal more power and better gas mileage than the old V6. In calendar-year 2013, another upgrade saw the existing Mercedes and Chrysler automatic transmissions replaced by eight-speed automatics, regardless of engine, and the addition of a VM diesel to the options list.
The 2014 model year also saw the addition of a new Jeep Cherokee (KL), replacing Liberty; this was based on a heavily modified Fiat platform and architecture, with a four-cylinder or V6 engine hooked up to a nine-speed automatic. Front and four wheel drive systems were created for the vehicle, intended for worldwide sale in the old Jeep tradition. The Cherokee name was still in use in export markets.
The Compass and Patriot are expected to cease production in 2014. The Grand Cherokee was revised in model-year 2014, gaining a diesel option and standard eight-speed automatic, but it retained the same body and body code.
CJ and YJ. The 1987-95 Jeep Wrangler was the replacement for the Jeep CJ series, which dated back to 1946. Willys had been purchased by Kaiser Industries, which sold the Jeep division to AMC in 1970. As it had with Kaiser, Jeep sales sustained AMC as its car lines faded. The Wrangler was designed to make the Jeep more appealing to a broader customer base (a long-time Kaiser focus as well), but, more to the point, to stop it from flipping over when driven for recreation.
Unique even among SUVs, CJ and Wrangler retained removable doors and roofs along with flat fold-down windshields, for the ultimate in open-air driving.
The Wrangler went into production at AMC’s Brampton, Ontario plant in March 1986, while the CJ-7 and other Jeep vehicles kept the Toledo, Ohio, plant occupied; AMC would continue to build Wranglers in Canada for many years. All Wranglers built between March 1986 and June 1987 were 1987 models. Overall, 557,412 were made.
During 1987, Chrysler bought AMC from Renault, which had been unsuccessful in using AMC to sell Renault cars in the United States. Chrysler continued to produce the YJ in Ontario from July 1987 to April of 1992. Then Chrysler closed the 29-year-old Brampton plant and moved the Wrangler back to Toledo, with production going from July 1992 to December 1995.
The 1997 model year began early, in January 1996, while the 1995 model year ran to December, so there was no 1996 model-year Wrangler.
TJ. The TJ Wrangler was another step in broadening the appeal of the Wrangler for everyday family use. It used a stronger frame and a Cherokee-style suspension that made the vehicle more comfortable off road and on, without compromising the off road ability. For 2004, a new Wrangler with a 250mm-longer wheelbase was introduced (some reportedly call it the LJ), shown above as “Long.”
The standard engine until 2003 was a 2.5 liter AMC 4, replaced with a 2.4 liter dual-cam four-cylinder for 2003. The optional engine in these years was a strong four-liter straight-six, an AMC design. Option packages for off road and on road use were many and varied, as were top and door choices.
JK. The JK Wrangler was sold in two models from the start: two door Wrangler (2.42 meter wheelbase), and four door Wrangler Unlimited (2.95 meter wheelbase). Both were heavier, more powerful, and more expensive than any predecessors. The only engine was a 3.8 liter V6, replaced with a more powerful 3.6 liter V6 for the 2012 model year. Export versions had a 2.8 liter turbodiesel V6. The JK remained unique, and sold at a rate ahead of its equally-unique predecessors. It is due to be replaced around model-year 2017.
Jeep production totals by year, excluding Wrangler:
For details on production records and how these numbers were calculated, see the first article in this series, “Plymouth US Production Figures 1946-2001.” These tables are not definitive or fully accurate, but are the best I could do with the available information. I would welcome correspondence with anyone who is interested in this material and can correct any errors or misinformation on my part.
— Gerard Wilson, June 2013
Also see Chrysler history by year
Also by Gerard Wilson: Chrysler 1945-48 • Chrysler 1949-52 • Chrysler 1953-54 • Chrysler 1955-56
and Production numbers and histories, 1946-onwards
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