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Is Wagoneer grand?

by David Zatz on

We were recently told that the upcoming bigger-than-Grand-Cherokee Jeep will be called Grand Wagoneer, not Wagoneer.

This is, we must say, historically inaccurate.

Traditionally, Chrysler has used the term “Grand” to tell customers that they’re looking at a bigger version of a vehicle with the same name. Grand Caravan and Grand Voyager were bigger versions of Caravan and Voyager; oddly, they still use the name Grand Caravan,  though there is no “standard sized” Caravan any more. Those died in 2007, and the naming system has not yet recognized the change. (When Lancia sells their Voyagers, they drop the “Grand,” but Chrysler UK keeps it — go figure.)

Possibly the first time this was used was back in 1975, when the Plymouth Fury name was applied to what had been the Belvedere and Satellite. Fury was indeed a better name than Belvedere, and Satellite would probably have confused customers; by renaming the “B body” to Fury, Plymouth could tell customers that, in response to popular demand, they had dramatically downsized their big near-luxury cars. But if they still wanted the extra size, they could get the Gran Fury, which was, in fact, the “real” Fury. (Dodge did a similar move with Monaco and Royal Monaco).

As for Jeep, the “Grand” Cherokee was created in 1993, largely because Chrysler had purchased AMC/Jeep. The original Cherokee was still selling very well, and Jeep leaders realized they could keep pumping out Cherokees with very few changes for many years to come, while taking the slightly larger, more upscale second generation version and producing it in an unused Chrysler plant on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The result was the Grand Cherokee — every so slightly larger, again, but rather more luxurious than the utilitarian Cherokee.

How does this relate to Wagoneer? Well, Jeep Wagoneer was the original name, from 1963 onwards. But in 1984, a new line of XJ-body Cherokees was introduced, and Wagoneer was made a trim level of the much more compact and modern Cherokee. It was not, you may have noticed, called Grand Cherokee.

The original Wagoneer continued in production from 1984 to 1991. While quite inefficient compared with the XJ series, it was larger, more comfortable, and a major luxury statement by a certain class of buyers.  In 1990, Grand Wagoneer buyer loyalty was 60%, and they had a median income of $98,200 (that’s around $175,000 in 2013 dollars). That made producing Wagoneer, albeit in very small numbers (fewer than 4,000 in 1991), profitable and attractive, for a time.

The Grand Wagoneer name continued in 1993, after a one-year absence, as a trim level of Grand Cherokee, but it was not popular and did not last long.

One cannot help but observe that the Wagoneer itself was an innovative, state of the art design, while Grand Wagoneer was a relic of a bygone era…or, starting in 1993, a sticker package.

If Wagoneer was already a trim level on Grand Cherokee, it would make sense to name the new version Grand Wagoneer. If Jeep customers were so insanely stupid as to think anything named “Grand” must be the top of the line (which would place Grand Caravan above Charger, pre-2013-Viper, and Durango in the Dodge lineup), it might be necessary. I would like to think that, if they were really that foolish, Jeep buyers would be (insert your favorite brand-to-dump-on here) buyers.

In short, naming a new SUV “Grand Wagoneer” shows ignorance of Jeep history, coupled with an implication that customers are fools; it also creates problems for the future, as some people look under “G” for Grand Wagoneer and others look under “W” for Wagoneer. And, of course, reporters have to type an extra word all the time, if we follow the proper designations.

So let’s drop the pretensions of Grand-eur and just call it… Wagoneer. It’s a strong enough name to stand on its own.

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