Mike Manley, CEO of Chrysler’s Jeep division, is leading the way in the reinvention of the storied brand. Jeep, which plays a crucial role in CEO Sergio Marchionne’s plan to expand the automaker’s global presence, is performing well in its home market.

All-new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Cherokee SUVs recently launched, and the nameplate’s U.S. sales are running slightly ahead of year-ago through November to 437,179, according to WardsAuto data.

Manley, interviewed at the L.A. auto show, discusses the outlook for the Jeep brand and what it needs to build upon its recent success.

WardsAuto: What is your outlook for 2014?

Manley: I’m looking for a strong year for Jeep in 2014. Last year we broke our sales record of 700,000 units with virtually zero Libertys in 2013, and today we’re level with 2012, so that’s a great performance from the rest of our vehicles. Now, with Cherokee on sale for two months, we have a very good chance of breaking last year’s record.

Going into 2014 with the most competitive vehicle in the midsize SUV segment, the largest in the U.S., we’re looking to make sure we use that to continue to grow our other products. And if we do that, 2014 will be a very strong year for Jeep.

WardsAuto: Can you tell us the future of the Jeep Patriot and Compass?

Manley: They are still very much in the plan. Both of those vehicles continue to perform phenomenally. Compass was up in October, which shows how strong it is. The compact-CUV segment is very important for us, not just here but all over the world.

The Compass and Patriot (eventually) will be replaced by one vehicle. I don’t think we will be inventing a new name, but which one we choose will be made closer to the launch date. In the U.S. the Patriot sells better, but worldwide the Compass sells better. That to me has less to do with the name and more to do with the body style and what markets are looking for. Both are very strong in their segments.

WardsAuto: Does Jeep need to be in any new segments?

Manley: We need to be in the emerging small-CUV segment. It’s very important, more so for Europe, but here there is growing interest in small CUVs. So that’s one area where we will be playing in very shortly.

And Jeep historically has played in the fullsize-plus (segment), and we talked about Jeep bringing that back with a 3-row vehicle, which will still be through and through a Jeep. To me those are the two immediate priorities for the brand.  

WardsAuto: The European Union recently pushed back its 95 g/km C02 limit. Does that alter the product plan/strategy for the European market?

Manley: No. One of the key things we embarked on when we emerged in our restructuring was to continue with dramatic fuel-economy improvements within the vehicles. And that continues to be a very important part of our ongoing product strategy. Cherokee compared to Liberty in (fuel economy) is one example.

WardsAuto: Beyond the BRIC nations, what do you see as the most promising emerging market?

Manley: That answer is different for every manufacturer because it depends on where you are today. A big market for me, which could offer significant growth, is the ASEAN, because we’re virtually nonexistent in those markets today. I think there is an appreciation for the Jeep brand that’s there already, and I think there’s opportunity. When you take BRIC out of the equation, you take most of the major markets that Jeep is looking to grow into in the short term.

WardsAuto: Are there any capacity bottlenecks for Jeep in terms of increasing production?

Manley: Demand for Grand Cherokee continues to outstrip our production capability. But that’s an area we’re working on hard and will continue to do so with the guys and girls in the plant. So that’s one area. And the success of Wrangler in recent years has resulted in demand being ahead of production. Those are two areas you’ll see us continue to work on in 2014.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

bpope@wardsauto.com