We need Jeep to come back to glory
You could swap the badges on many cars below $50,000 and you’d not know the difference… and that’s why I want a Wrangler…
…THAT’S WHY I was glad to read Alex Rae’s recent interview with Fiat-Chrysler Australia’s after-sales boss where it seemed there would be a renewed focus on “two separate problems, the first problem is product reliability and (the other is) customer satisfaction”.
The brands in the FCA stable are worth the effort, a bit like preserving a useful but endangered species of animal. Take Jeep, for example. They’re always distinctive, different. I like that, and I love the fact they still make off-road vehicles. Well, kind of. It’s a sad day when the average Jeep is a two wheel drive fit only for a dirt road, and the offroad capable ones need special Trailhawk badging.
But still. Jeep make the Wrangler, and with the new JL version they show every sign of keeping the raw, fun ethos that defines their oldest and best known design. Every other manufacturer is trying to automate driving and therefore kill the fun – there appears to be no Toyota 86 or MX-5 of the off-road world. Except for the Wrangler (and maybe the Jimny).
Every time I try and design a 4WD that’s actually real fun I end up with the Wrangler – great looks, amazing capability, odd but practical interior, convertible, interesting on-road dynamics…the Wrangler is an all-time classic and it is my absolute first, and maybe only choice for real, pure four-wheel-drive fun.
And I mean that. Back in 2012 I saved up my coins and ordered my dream car; an orange Wrangler Rubicon JK. Manual, because it was going to be my fun car, and with all the off-road accessories you can think of. Leather seats too, the works. The Rubicon is the hardcore version of the Wrangler, with twin cross-axle lockers, swaybar disconnects and more. It was going to be great!
The car took a while to arrive, some 10months after more than a few delays, but I was patient. You would be too for your dream car.
Then I got the call I’d been waiting for – the car would be arriving in a week. I was excited, I’d organised the numberplates, tyres, insurance, money. All was ready to go.
Then the phone rang again.
“Your car…there’s a problem.” “Yes?” “It’s not quite the specification you wanted.” “Uh-oh….” “It’s automatic, not manual”.
Yup. Now I tried to think about what might have happened, and couldn’t come up with an explanation that didn’t end in blithering incompetence. Either someone didn’t check production against orders, or they did and just didn’t care.
But I was not to be deterred, and tried again. Off Jeep went for a second try at building what their customer wanted, and by now it was 2013.
Except, after a few weeks – because you don’t rush these things like building a mass-produced car, even after said customer has waited best part of a year – there was another problem. Back came the dealer.
“Um,… the colour. We don’t do orange any more. You can have the car you want, but not in orange. Is that ok?”
No. No, it’s not ok. When you buy a new car, you specify it exactly the way you want. That’s one reason you buy new, not take whatever you get second-hand. So I cancelled the order, and bought a Ford Ranger and Toyota 86 instead. But I still want a Wrangler in my life at some point, along with a kelpie and a glider. Yeah, strange mix I know.
Now that’s not even the end of the story. Just last week a fella came up to me and told me how much he liked my books. That’s not unusual, but his story was… or maybe was not. He too had tried to buy a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon… and he’d been delivered the right transmission, colour, also after a long wait. Unfortunately, they made his the plain Wrangler Sport, not the off-road-special Rubicon. He wanted to commiserate with me, but also share his joy, because that’s what Jeep owners are like.
So here’s hoping FCA turn things around. The world needs distinctive, stylish cars like Jeep and its cousin marques. But there’s only so much customers will suffer to enjoy them.