It may not rise to the level of incompetence or negligence as when an Apple employee left a top secret prototype of the iPhone 4 in a bar in 2010, but it is close for auto companies that guard their designs so that they can save their new models to make big splashes at auto shows with dogs, ponies, electric lights, dancing girls and confetti.
What you see here is the first image of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee that was published on auto-enthusiast site Jalopnik.com. It is a somewhat crude photo, probably taken with a phone-camera, hastily, while no one was looking at the shooter. Because it was taken inside the factory, it was likely an employee or a visiting supplier employee.
Chrysler, we expect, is going to investigate who might have snapped the photo at the factory, and most certainly tighten up security. Attention Toledo workers: You probably just lost your privileges for having cell-phones inside the factory. Chrysler had been hoping to unveil the new SUV at The New York International Auto Show in late March.
After the release of the photo by Jalopnik.com, the folks at Jeep decided they had better release nicer looking photos so that people will have a better image in their heads of what the newest Jeep looks like.
The 2014 Cherokee replaces the current Jeep Liberty. Frankly, it's about time. The Liberty has always struck us as being an odd duck of an SUV, with awkward egresses through the rear doors, and a bit top-heavy in proportions--like it is prone to tip over around a sharp curve.
We never thought Liberty was a bad name, but Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne hinted last year that the new Jeep would restore the Cherokee name. "It seems odd to have a Grand Cherokee, but no Cherokee...but that may be just me."
The Cherokee was a much beloved Jeep throughout the 1980s and 90s until Chrysler discontinued it in 2001. It was a key model that ushered in the end of the station-wagon era in the U.S. and the start of the SUV era. It sold between 1974 and 2001.
So, let's break down the new Cherokee. The new proportions are much more sleek, and less boxy than the Liberty. It actually looks more like a baby Grand Cherokee the way that it should. There is a weird crease across the seven-slot grill that will have Jeep lovers debating it like baseball fans debate the designated hitter. There are teeny tiny slit headlights that if they were slices of pie we would think we got rooked. And in this picture, it appears that the hood has two mighty dents from a toilet being dropped from fifty feet, but that is just the way the light is hitting it the car in the official photos. We expect it looks much better in person.
Do you think it merits the name Cherokee? Does it look like an unmistakable Jeep? Would you know it was a Jeep from fifty yards away? We'd have to say "No" to those questions. Whereas we did not like the Liberty from day-one, it at least looked like a distant relative of Jeeps of yore and the current Wrangler.
We have a lot of respect and admiration for the current design team and leadership at Chrysler. And I have nothing but good things to say about the influence of Fiat on the company since the Italian company took over the ailing Chrysler in 2009 and restored it to profitability. But there is a perhaps a bit too much influence here from the designers in Turin or something and not enough from Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills.
That said, it is important to realize that this Cherokee must carry water, people and gear all over the world. Jeep needs this SUV to be a home run in Milan, Michigan (pronounced MY-LIN) as well as in Milan, (pronounced Mi-Lan) Italy. In London, Ontario and London, England. In Paris, Texas and Paris, France.
The designers have calculated that a Cherokee with a global design, rather than a uniquely American design, will play better across the globe. They may be proved right. Or they may not.
What do you think?