CHELSEA, MI – Jeep is formulating a strategy to tap into the red-hot millennial market and keep younger buyers with the brand throughout their driving years.

The plan, Jeep executives tell WardsAuto during a media backgrounder here, is to better position the Patriot as an entry-level vehicle in the U.S. Buyers would be expected to graduate to the larger Liberty and then to the Grand Cherokee as their incomes or family size increase.

The legacy Grand Cherokee and Wrangler remain Jeep’s flagships and cast shadows over the brand’s other offerings. Expect more marketing of the ’13 Patriot’s lower base price – $15,995, or $1,000 less than the ’12 model – and the SUV’s generous 30 mpg highway (7.8 L/100 km) fuel economy, a consideration for buyers of subcompact and compact cars.

“We’ll introduce (the Patriot) to a new audience,” Brad Pinter, manager-Jeep marketing, promises. “It’s about falling in love with a Jeep.”

Jeep officials won’t comment on the fate of the Compass, which Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne reportedly has said will be phased out of the lineup in 2014. For now, the Compass remains part of the graduated strategy and will target young families, particularly women drivers with small children.

Jeep sales overall have been steady, but a boost for the Patriot and Liberty wouldn’t hurt. Midyear, WardsAuto figures show Chrysler has delivered 32,707 Patriot and 42,339 Liberty vehicles – compared with 75,117 Grand Cherokees.

The Patriot will offer some aftermarket-style add-ons, including blacked-out wheels and satellite radio, in special youth-oriented packages, such as the vehicle’s Altitude trim.

The base price is driven down by skipping on some interior gizmos, such as power seats and colorful thin-film-transistor instrumentation.

However, Jeep will continue to emphasize the vehicle’s off-road capabilities.

“It’ll be a transition vehicle as they nurture their buying habits,” Pinter says of the Patriot. “The demand has been increasing with this car.”

afoley@wardsauto.com