The Re-birth of the Jeep Grand Cherokee
John Mrozowski, Vehicle Line Executive, International Programs, Chrysler Corp LLC.
Paul Murrell talks to the man who was given the responsibility for improving the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
John Mrozowski was still a little jet-lagged when I caught up with him to discuss the face-lifted Jeep Grand Cherokee, but his enthusiasm for the vehicle shines through.
“Two and a half years ago,” he recalls, “the Senior VP Engineering tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘We’d like you to work on the Grand Cherokee’. Since we had just launched the new model, I was inheriting something that we thought was already great, but we had to take it and make it better.”
John is a long-term Chrysler employee. He’s been with the company for 24 years, so he’s seen a lot of ups and probably even more downs. “I was with Chrysler through the Chapter 11 proceedings,” he explains. For those who don’t know, Chapter 11 is shorthand for a section of the US Bankruptcy Code that permits reorganisation of a company to trade its way out of bankruptcy under the oversight and jurisdiction of the court.
In 2008, Sergio Marchionne took control of the company when it was in financial meltdown. Marchionne, a lawyer and accountant, had already rescued Fiat and turned it into a healthy, fast-growing car company. He recognised that Fiat needed Chrysler to become a more global company, and Chrysler needed Fiat to succeed in Europe and South America. He took on the role of CEO of both companies and restructured, revamped and overhauled. The result was that he was able to pay off government loans less than two years after he had taken control, and six years ahead of schedule.
“When we were discussing plans for the new Grand Cherokee,” explains Mrozowski “Mr Marchionne wanted to know why we had decided to drop the flip-up tailgate. He wasn’t convinced it was a positive change and we had to explain our thinking.”
Nothing focuses attention like having the CEO looking over your shoulder!
Surprisingly in a modern car company, according to John Mrozowski, Marchionne takes a personal and hands-on approach to the design of cars developed by the company he heads. Marchionne is well-known for his informal approach in a company that was the most formal of the American Big Three. He doesn’t wear suits, is often in need of a haircut or even a shave and maintains his office on the same floor as the engineering department. Best of all, he is a car enthusiast, often climbing behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Maserati for a few laps of the track, “just for the fun of it”.
Mrozowski explained some of the pressures in re-birthing the Jeep Grand Cherokee. “We had to protect the core values of Jeep’s off-road ability. But customers had told us they wanted better fuel economy. The eight-speed transmission helped achieve that.” The team did manage some weight savings, (deleting the flip-up rear glass saved a little over 6kg, for example) but the new technology and additional equipment put most of the weight back in. The new Grand Cherokee weighs almost exactly the same as the previous model. Despite this, fuel economy has been improved by five per cent.
There were other requirements that must have been a nightmare for the engineering team. “We had to maintain towing capacity,” Mrozowski says. “And appeal to more green-conscious customers. We reduced emissions, and yet produced a vehicle with a range of 1168 kilometres on a single tank. The new ZF gearbox means the car isn’t hunting for the best ratio. It has a wide spread so it is always in the optimum gear for acceleration, towing, off-road, whatever. We had to maintain manoeuvrability, which we did by looking at the approach and departure angles. We improved the crawl ratio – it’s now 44 to one. But most of all, we wanted to increase the overall fun factor: having a big smile on your face is something we always aimed to deliver.”
One thing Mrozowski and his team weren’t able to achieve was to deliver a Jeep Grand Cherokee with seven seat capability. He admits that Jeep needs a seven-seater in the Australian market. “We looked long and hard at the Dodge Durango, but with the projected Australian volume, the numbers simply didn’t add up.”
It may have been said for our benefit, but John Mrozowski reiterated his invitation for us to provide feedback, both positive and negative, on the new Grand Cherokee, and we were happy to oblige. It demonstrates the new attitude at Chrysler and, if he takes local comments and criticisms back to Detroit, bodes well for products better suited to our local conditions.