Although September represented a rare “off” month for Jeep this year—with a slight decline in sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee—both the brand and its flagship generally have had a very impressive 2011, including a relatively strong performance in the most recent Consumer Reports Annual Car Reliability Study. Of course, CR-wise, the emphasis is certainly on “relatively”: Jeep was the No. 1 domestic brand in the 2011 study, increasing its standing by seven spots; on the other hand, that left Chrysler’s off-road experts in 13th place overall, trailing 12 Asian brands—remember, Volvo is now owned by China’s Geely holding company.
CR’s most durable dozen, in order:
Reliability and Popularity
Interestingly(?), Jeep has seen sales grow at a faster rate than any of the 12 makes ahead of it, even Hyundai and Kia. Jeep deliveries have increased by 46 percent so far this year, significantly ahead of Kia (+37.1 percent) and far outdistancing the marks of Volvo (+26.8 percent), Hyundai (+20.2 percent), Nissan (+17.2 percent), Mazda (+9.5 percent) and Subaru (+1 percent). The other half of the top 12 have all posted year-to-date sales decreases.
Jeep has been jumping across the board, too, with every model in the lineup posting YTD sales leaps of at least 28 percent—led by the much-maligned Jeep Compass, which rang up a whopping 306 percent improvement in deliveries last month, on the way to a 138 percent surge through September.
That all seems to make sense for Jeep. The brand has significantly refreshed its product lineup with a focus on two key areas that are particularly important to buyers: interiors and the driving experience. Both are vastly superior to their counterparts from pre-2011 models and this, combined with the increased industry demand for crossovers and SUVs, has left Jeep in the right place, with the right products, at the right time. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the brand’s initial appeal and its CR reliability grades—which, obviously, aren’t the same thing—have been moving in lockstep.
That’s no knock against Jeep, but it does raise some questions about CR’s analysis, something all of us automotive gadflies enjoy picking on.
The Ford Factor
For example, let’s note that the Ford division’s CR performance cratered this time around, as the brand fell from being No. 10 in the rankings last year down to the 20th spot this year. With scores dragged down by all-new vehicles like the Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus and Ford Explorer, CR indicates that: “Ford’s problems show the risks of buying a first-year model” and specifically calls out the MyFord Touch setup and the PowerShift six-speed automatic from the Fiesta/Focus as trouble points.
But the Jeep’s CR star, the Grand Cherokee, also was a first-year model, as was the Dodge Durango, another Chrysler Group product specifically praised in the 2011 Reliability Study. And of the two models from the Chrysler division proper with enough data for CR to make a reliability determination, it was the one with by far the most extensive upgrade—the Chrysler 200—that finished “well above average.”
In fact, it’s also worth pointing out that Chrysler moved up 12 spots in the ranking—albeit with just that previous pair of vehicles in the mix—and Dodge managed to claw upward by three places as well. So here’s another un-coincidence: The automaker that brought the most new vehicles on line in recent months actually was the one that improved its reliability most. Further, while there’s room for debate over how many of the changes implemented by the Chrysler Group’s “vehicle onslaught” were significant upgrades, the automaker did deploy an all-new engine, the Pentastar V6, during this time—that’s definitely no insignificant hardware change.
Oh, and the only European automaker in the top 10, Volvo, “was helped by the redesigned S60, which was above average in its first year.”
So, while the accuracy of third-party quality surveys like the CR Car Reliability Study may be up for dispute, you certainly can’t say the same about the appeal that crossovers and SUVs have for U.S. customers—especially when they wear the Jeep badge.
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