This week at Detroit, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler seemed to be at a loss for words as he alluded to how good the coming Liberty replacement would be. He even suggested that it would not need a platform mate when it begins rolling off the assembly line at Toledo, sometime later this year.
While every fan of Chrysler hopes this is true, what about Jeepers? What do we really "know" about this new Fiat based vehicle and do Marchionne's aspirations for Jeep, live up to American Jeeper's expectations?
What we know; The Liberty replacement will be CUSW+ based, meaning, like the Dart, strong Fiat DNA in suspension, drivetrain and architecture. This means a front wheel drive, all wheel drive configuration with Jeep Engineers working around the clock to attempt to squeeze a 'Trail Rating' out of the Fiat based vehicle carrying a Jeep nameplate.
We also know that last year, at a dealer meeting, the new 'Liberty' was shown to the Chrysler/Jeep people present and met with disbelieve and shock at the new and different styling direction. How much of that vehicle makes it into the final design, is unknown.
The new Liberty will undoubtedly appeal to consumers looking for the Jeep image while providing interior utility, best in class fuel economy and an all weather capability.
What we don't know is, will that be enough?
Can Jeep survive offering a larger clone of Patriot/Compass, without real Jeep capability and front wheel drive? Have Jeepers already dismissed every Jeep but Wrangler as "real" Jeeps and does Chrysler really care if nothing that makes a Jeep a "Jeep" remains,... as long as it sells well?
One thing is clear, Fiat thinks that consumers care more about the nameplate on the hood, than brand identity and actual capability and Jeep has become nothing more than a marketing slogan.
Will Jeep become a short term success, but a long term asteric, joining Hudson, Packard and Plymouth as valued brands that somewhere along the road, lost their way?