• Mar 21, 2006

The Jeep Compass, arguably the 2006 North American International Auto Show's leading whipping boy has been outed (along with company's upcoming Patriot twin) by James Healey at the USA Today as potentially damaging brand extensions. The two vehicles are based on the DaimlerChrysler's on-road-only Dodge Caliber, offering comparatively little of Jeep's trademark off-road prowess, thus calling into question the marque's direction and identity.

The question is: Will DaimlerChrysler's division to forsake the Rubicon Trail for the Primrose Path lead to a sales success, a tarnished image... or both?

This author went so far as to call the Compass the NAIAS' 'Worst In Show' within hours of the vehicle's introduction and has yet to see anything to change his mind. As a Dodge-branded vehicle unencumbered by Jeep's 'mountain man' aura, the Compass might have made for a reasonable offering. In fact, it likely will be a fine offering-- as a Caliber. But as it stands, the model's name takes on an unwelcome ironic sheen for a company clearly losing sight of who it is and where it's going. This is a particular shame given that Jeep has arguably long remained the most self-aware brand in the entire domestic auto industry.

(continue reading after the jump)

For their part, the company's marketing director John Plecha argues: "We're not watering down the brand. We know what we have, and we're protecting it." But it would appear that if Jeep isn't headed for brand currency implosion, it is at least toying with the idea: 2004's oddball Treo city-crawler concept and the production-bound Compass fairly spit on the brand's hard-won off-road credibility and machismo. Oh, there are still people within the company that know how to be proper custodians of the brand's heritage-- they're the good folks responsible for the Hurricane, Gladiator, Jeepster, and Rescue... but producing vehicles like the Compass (and to a lesser extent, the Patriot), have us questioning Who's Zoomin' Who.

The biggest question remains: Will they sell? Possibly. But that doesn't mean the hit to Jeep's image is worth the risk. There are a fair number of vehicles that have sold respectably, yet served to incalculably damage their manufacturer's reputation over the long haul. And given the Compass' projected low entry-price, we can't imagine the model being a cash-cow. Perhaps the Compass and the Patriot exist in large measure to help amortize platform costs for the Caliber, but building three low-margin vehicles in order to justify the existence of one doesn't exactly a shiny business case make. As brands like Jaguar have learned the hard way, not every company needs to be everything to all people-- volume isn't always the answer. The DaimlerChrysler family has many umbrellas under which to house a full lineup of vehicles without soiling the Jeep brand with limp-wristed offerings like the Compass.

Yes, not everyone needs a vehicle of genuine off-road ability. But those people don't need a Jeep... they just want the outfit. And unfortunately for DCX, when too many wannabes start rolling around with the 'outfits' on, those that earned the marque its image in the first place will be observed looking elsewhere.

[Sources: USA Today, Jeep, Jeep Horizons]



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  • 69 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      Brian, I have some interesting historical news for you.

      The ORIGINAL Jeep Wagoneer (and related J-10 series picukps) introduced in 1963 with an overhead camshaft hemi-head adaptation of the Kaiser (Continental) L-head six? The four wheel drive variants had an articulated (independent) front drive axle - with a universal joint in the middle, and of course, universal joints on the ends (so the front wheels could steer). NOT a solid front axle (with universal joints on the ends, so the front wheels could steer).

      Jeep later substituted a solid front axle on 4x4's to decrease the number of warrantee claims on the problematical system, and replaced the OHC six built in it's own plants with a bought-in American Motors OHV six in about 1967) and added an American Motors built (NOT Chevy) 327 cu.in. V8 in 1965 as an option, too). (American Motors did not buy Kaiser Jeep until 1970).

      The designer of the OHC six was a European and he built the engine with too many complexities - it was NOT suited to off-road or 1960's American use!

      A front live axle does not mean a "Jeep" is more of a "Jeep" than one with independent front suspension.

      Brands can be adapted to what the manufacturers want them to be.

      Whether it's a mistake or not, we'll see, won't we?
      • 8 Years Ago
      What Healey and some of the comments here miss (#24 and 25 get it though)is that Compass doesn't do anything to "real" Jeeps like the Wrangler. There is a new Wrangler that is coming out this fall (they showed it at the Detroit Auto Show in January) and not only are they the real deal Wranglers, they look great too. There will be a Jeep for loyal Jeep Enthusiasts, and there will be a Jeep Patriot for people like me tht can't afford a Wrangler, don't really do any real offroading, but I like the fact that the Patriot is more capable in snow and crappy dirt roads that are known to occur in Michigan (and the occasional two track up north).

      Jeep has already said they won't mess with Wrangler, why not open up the brand to folks that aren't the purists? If they sell more vehicles, it leaves more money to keep developing vehicles for the Jeep purists.
      • 8 Years Ago
      HoneyGram that is exactly the opposite of the point. The point of Jeeps is that they ARE NOT for everyone. You shouldn't just conform a company whos image for so long has been to not conform.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Jeep used to have a mandate that all their vehciels could traverse the Rubicon trail... that's been cast aside.

      It would be more tolerable if they made their cars Rallye-inspired AWD models... kick the WRX and the like around a bit (OK, maybe in SRT trim). The compass looks like a microvan, though... 1 out of 10 in my book.

      At least when Porsche came out with the Cayenne they produced the turbo S version... that bugger is faster than most sports cars... true to marque. People bag on the Cayenne all the time... drive one - then come back to me and complain... they're excellent vehicles. Pricey, but excellent.
      • 8 Years Ago
      For better thoughts on the compass. http://www.allpar.com/model/jeep/compass.html

      The compass is no worse than the 1948-1950 jeepster. Now those are classics.
      At one time the compass was suppose to be a rally vehicle. Like Subaru and Mitsubishi. Currently the caliber SRT-4 may take that spot. I think peoples image may change on the compass if DCX would enter a compass SRT-4 in a rally race.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "The compass is no worse than the 1948-1950 jeepster. Now those are classics"

      First off, the Jeepster is a lesson in product failure and presaged the ill-conceived Aztek. Secondly... they're classic by vintage only. They didn't sell for a reason. Antique Jeeps aren't generally known for their collector value.

      This is a Dodge Caliber with a seven-slot grill. What's the point?

      I think it'll be a blinding failure (y'know... like the Jeepster), but DCX has done a great job with the successor to the TJ so at least they've done right by the Jeep halo vehicle.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Sr. Johnathan Wilkins, You talk a good game but I question you facts. 1. Hummer 1 is thier only true off-roaders H2 & H3 are rebadged Chevys not true off- roaders. 2. Landrovers freelander was no off-roader.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Cadillac Cimmaron, part II.

      There is no doubt in my mind that this will dilute the jeep brand. A few people here don't get it, and draw reference to SUVs made by luxery automakers (Cadillac, MB). The difference is, when a luxery car maker builds an SUV, it's a luxurious SUV. When an Off-road vehicle company makes a car, it is NOT an off-roading car. It is simply a car. In this particular case, it's an ugly, pointless car.

      Would Hummer market a rebadged Cobalt?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Jeep is heading down the wrong path. Fist the Cherokee is discontinued, then a Sports Cute like the Liberty comes around, and now these two car-based losers, the Compass and the Patriot. Shame on Jeep's marketing folks. I'll be keeping my faithful and reliable '96 Cherokee for ten more years...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Why is everyone making a big fuss over this? If you don't like the vehicle, don't buy it. If you don't like the idea of an on-road Jeep, don't buy it. It's not like the Compass is meant to replace a current "off-raod" model, its meant to expand the brand. If you want "Trail-rated" by pass the Compass and get a Wrangler or Cherokee.

      And this ONE vehicle from Jeep will not dilute their image. Now if all Jeeps went in this direction, then there would definitely be a problem...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Bad idea, Jeep. Not only will this vehicle dilute what was once (as somwone already mentioned) one of the most focused brands, but it is a completely unneccesary vehicle. Jeep sells off-road capable SUVs. That is what Jeep means to people. If you want to build this car, sell it as a Chrysler, or a Dodge, but why a Jeep? It's not worth it.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Maybe it's just the pictures (some vehicles look different/better in person), but the Compass looks like Jeep's Mustang II. That is, a vehicle that TRIES to take the styling cues of a larger car, or truck, and glom them onto a MUCH smaller vehicle. Like the Mustang II, I imagine this car will sell in respectable numbers...at first. But over the long haul will be seen as a low water mark for the Jeep brand.
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