Interview: Steve Zanlunghi, head of Jeep brand for EMEA, on forthcoming developments

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The Jeep Renegade, launched in autumn 2014 has helped to transform the US brand’s fortunes throughout Europe. Annual sales by the end of November 2015 reached 80,653 across The European Union and European Free Trade Area (EFTA), compared with 34,772 for the same period in 2014, an increase of 131.9%. In 2014, global sales reached 1,017,000.

Renegade may have kick-started Jeep sales in Europe, but there is more to come. A C-segment SUV is due to arrive in 2016, which marks the brand’s 75th anniversary. According to Steve Zanlunghi (pictured), head of Jeep brand for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) there is also a new Grand Wagoneer, reviving an old Jeep name and a new Jeep Wrangler in the pipeline. Grand Wagoneer is not expected until 2018 and is likely to be built on the Grand Cherokee platform. With it, Jeep is planning to take on the Range Rover and other luxury SUV models.

The new Wrangler could appear in 2016 for the 2017 model year. “It’s going to be a complete renewal,” says Zanlunghi, “It will evolve, but it will stay true to its roots because the most passionate fans that we have are the Wrangler fans, so if you get that wrong, you face a big backlash.”

Renegade was the first Jeep to be built outside the US and the plan is to expand this to six models built in six countries by 2018. In sales terms Zanlunghi told IFW how sales break down across the EMEA region. “The Middle East market represents 30% of our sales, there’s a little piece coming from South Africa and pretty much the rest of it is coming from Europe plus EFTA.”


Revised dealers network

The Fiat Chrysler (FCA) Group is gradually shaking up its dealer network. Jeep and Alfa Romeo dealers are being brought together as a joint franchise and by 2017 there will be a complete reworking of the network. Zanlunghi says that the company is not discriminating between existing Jeep and Alfa Romeo dealers and those who see an opportunity with the joint franchise. The key factors will be the best operators and those who are in the right locations.

“At the end of the day it comes down to the operator, because they would be the face of the brand to the customer,” comments Zanlunghi.

We are not likely to see an electric Jeep in the near future, but the 2021 EU CO2 fleet average of 95g/km will inevitably shape powertrain policy. Zanlunghi says that Jeep does not have a brand strategy for this, but is part of a corporate strategy, so we can expect some electrification of FCA models in the near future, which could be adapted for Jeep use.

No matter how good a product turns out to be, a customer’s experience with aftersales, whether private or fleet can make or break a company’s reputation, “You can always be better in aftersales,” says Zanlunghi, “When you get someone to the Jeep brand, they become very loyal and you have to do a lot to chase them away and to a certain extent we are chasing some customers away, so there’s a big focus on customer satisfaction for us. While the dealers are upgrading the network, it’s not just customer satisfaction, it’s dedicated sales people, we’ve got strict processes for the customer journey from the minute they step onto the shop floor and immersing them in the brands as well, so there’s a big training process going on.”

Zanlunghi sees the current time as a period of transition for both the brand and the dealers, including those that are new to the brand as well as existing dealers, “If you look at it, this line-up that we have now is totally different to what we had in 2012.”


Fleet sales

The arrival of a C-SUV model for Jeep in 2016 could open up fleet sales for the company. While Zanlunghi would not be drawn on how this might impact fleet sales, he told us, “We really haven’t talked much about where we want to go. We do have an internal strategy on it, but just take a look at what we’re doing with Renegade. In the UK it allowed us to get into some fleet channels that we’d never been able to get into.

“We’ve got a clear plan for it – clearly it’s white space for us, because traditionally in the past, really it’s been private or retail sales for the Jeep brand. Now we’ve got the products and the CO2 emissions. I joke around, that when I came over to the UK in 2012, the dealers said, “you guys need to fix your engines, you’re really high in CO2,” and I told them that in the US we don’t really look at the CO2. They build the car, ship it over the Atlantic and we measure the CO2 in kilogrammes not grammes.

“We’ve done a really good job with the partnership and the merger with Fiat. They have given us technical expertise and a focus on what we need to do if we really want to grow in Europe and other emissions sensitive regions.”

New models and a manufacturing network based in the US is putting pressure on supply.

“Right now, our vehicles are constrained,” says Zanlunghi, “We’re at capacity on Grand Cherokee, we’re at capacity on Wrangler and we’re just about at capacity on Renegade as well.

The Trailhawk variant of the Renegade currently accounts for 10% of sales across the EMEA, compared with a forecast of 8%, without a launch in the Middle East yet, which is likely to drive four wheel‐drive demand higher. Overall four‐wheel drive models take a 50% slice of sales across Europe. “That’s great, because we were targeting somewhere between 25% and 30%.”

Despite the traditional Jeep looks of the Renegade, Zanlunghi says that female customers are also being drawn to Jeep by the model. “We’re also seeing female buyers attracted to it, we’ve seen that 35% of our buyers for Renegade are female. We put a strategy together to appeal to women buyers. We didn’t put an official target on the board, but we were thinking somewhere around 25% and it’s driving a totally new buyer to the brand.”

Will Renegade deliver more body styles? Wait for the Geneva Show, says Zanlunghi.

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