Jeep updates Cherokee compact SUV to compete in hot market

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne is interviewed after the unveiling of the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee during the North American International Auto Show, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, in Detroit. Marchionne said a day earlier that he'll step down in 2019, after leading the combined company since 2009. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Fiat Chrysler's Jeep brand is giving the Cherokee compact SUV a major face-lift; CEO hints at three new SUVs and campaign to grow sales in Europe

DETROIT β€” Fiat Chrysler's Jeep brand is giving the Cherokee compact SUV a major face-lift so it can better compete in one of the hottest parts of the U.S. automotive market.

The 2019 Cherokee, unveiled Tuesday at the Detroit auto show, gets styling tweaks, a new engine, suspension improvements and engineering changes that save 200 pounds and improve gas mileage over the current model.

At an impromptu news conference after the SUV was revealed, CEO Sergio Marchionne hinted at three future new products and said he'll be pushing for higher Jeep sales growth in Europe.

The updated Cherokee gets a new 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 270 horsepower and technology that shuts it down at stoplights to save fuel. It's similar to the engine in Alfa Romeo sports cars. A 3.2-liter V6 and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine carry over from the current model. A polymer tailgate is among the changes that help save 200 pounds.

Jeep also redesigned the rear cargo area, adding 4 cubic feet of storage space by making it wider so golf clubs can fit in straight rather than at an angle.

All this is to better compete with new versions from the competition such as the Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox.

When the latest-generation Cherokee came out in 2013, its curvy front grille departed from the normal flat Jeep front-end with round headlamps. That angered some Jeep purists who love the old look.

Jeep took a step toward the old front-end, giving the 2019 model a larger grille, combining LED headlamps and daytime running lights and adding a new hood and fender design.

"We polarized the market. We split it in half. People either loved it or they hated it. I think when you look at the rest of the range, that's much more in line with what Jeep is offering," Marchionne said.

The Cherokee appeals mostly to suburban drivers who seldom go off the road, yet Marchionne said it's still capable of doing so. "You always have the right to do that. The right to go off the road and do stuff to me is worth anything," he said.

Fiat Chrysler wouldn't give the exact on-sale date for the revised Cherokee, to be built in Belvidere, Illinois. The company says it will release fuel mileage and pricing later.

Also at the event, Marchionne said new SUVs are coming and called the Jeep brand's growth in Europe "shameful:"

β€” The company's Alfa Romeo performance brand will add a three-row large SUV by 2022. It will be larger than the Stelvio, Alfa's first SUV. Fiat Chrysler also has developed an SUV based on the Pacifica minivan underpinnings but hasn't decided whether to produce it. Once a decision is made, it could come in 18 to 20 months. A new Jeep Wrangler pickup truck will debut early in 2019, after Marchionne retires. The Ferrari brand also is developing an SUV that likely will go on the market around the start of 2020, he said.

β€” Marchionne said he is "really ticked off" about Jeep's relatively slow growth in Europe. He has replaced the brand's leader there and will embark on a campaign to grow sales. "We need to get the machine started. It's the laggard in the system. It's the one that should be doing a lot better than it really is doing because the market is up and we're just not getting our share."

For the first 11 months of 2017 Jeep sales rose 2.6 percent to 96,077 over the same period in 2016. That left market share in the European Union unchanged at 0.7 percent even though the overall market grew 4.1 percent, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

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