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From the Detroit Insider:

Jeep Patriot is risk-reward gambit

Brand that defined off-road prowess enters small SUV market with car-based models that could offend purists.

Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

For Jeep, it's the eternal quandary. How do you expand sales and reach the mass market without offending the purists who love the brand for its off-road pedigree?

This week at the New York Auto Show, Jeep will show off the Patriot, the second of two smaller models built from the basic platform of a -- gasp! -- passenger car.

The Patriot, a boxy little SUV with some off-road capability, and the Compass, a crossover aimed at urban dwellers, represent the new softer side of Jeep that could expand sales but ding its rock-solid brand image.

Including the Patriot and Compass, which are based on the Dodge Caliber sedan, Jeep will have six vehicles priced between $15,985 and $38,405.

Jeep's stronghold -- midsize SUVs -- is saturated, so the only way to increase sales is with a broader range of models.

And the company is betting the growth will come from entry-level SUVs and crossovers, a segment that Chrysler says is forecast to more than double from 368,000 in 2005 to 814,000 by 2016.

The marketing challenge will be to convince enthusiasts that Jeep hasn't gone too soft with the Patriot and Compass. The two vehicles will be assembled alongside the new Caliber hatchback at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., factory. The Compass goes into production next month and Patriot will debut later this year.

The more rugged Patriot is aimed mostly at young men looking for something more sensible than the hard-core Wrangler. The Compass is expected to attract a good portion of female buyers.

"The Patriot can end up cannibalizing or competing with vehicles in the Jeep lineup and not provide the incremental volume that they hope it does," said Jeff Schuster, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates.

And there's no shortage of competition in the entry-level SUV segment, which includes the Toyota RAV4, Saturn Vue, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage. Acura and Saturn also are planning small SUVs.

Jeep's 2005 U.S. sales reached 476,000, up from 427,000 units in 2004, but still down from a peak of 544,000 in 1999. Jeep sales rose 9 percent this year through March.

The Patriot's pricing hasn't been released, but it's expected to be positioned as the entry-level vehicle in Jeep showrooms, said John Plecha, Jeep's director of marketing and global communications. The Compass is priced beginning at $15,985 and tops out at $21,180.

To help ensure the vehicle's success and overcome any consumer hesitation, Jeep dealers will receive special training to tout the Patriot's off-road capabilities and power. The Patriot will be pitched at single and married professionals in their early 20s to early 40s who earn an average $65,000.

"There will be thorough training for them to handle customers," Plecha said.

Enthusiasts already are weighing in.

A blogger who calls himself Jeepin Jason, recently wrote: "I think this is the wrong direction for Jeep. While Hummer, Nissan, and Toyota are moving their 4×4 vehicles more towards the "off-road" crowd, Jeep seems to be chasing soccer moms and mall crawlers seemingly unaware of the competition that's hot on their heels."

Although the Patriot and Compass share the same chassis and interior parts, when it comes to styling, ride and handling, the Patriot is a different type of vehicle.

"The Patriot has a very Jeep, rugged look to it. All the sheet metal is unique for the Patriot," said Matt Liddane, Chrysler's chief engineer for front-wheel drive programs. "Really, the separator is the off-road capability."

In addition to the standard front-wheel-drive version, a "Trail Rated" 4x4 model will be available. To reduce costs, engineers installed a continuously variable transaxle, rather than a transfer case, that lets the vehicle crawl over rocks and logs at a controlled low speed.

In some ways, the Patriot is a natural successor to the boxy Jeep Cherokee, which helped usher in the SUV craze, but was discontinued when the Liberty debuted, said Jack Nerad, executive director of auto-buying guide Kelley Blue Book.

"Jeep has made a much-studied attempt to take a two-prong strategy in the same size class," Nerad said. "There are those that want the comfort of a car-base SUV, and then there's the other portion of the market that are more hard-core off-roaders. For them, there's the Patriot."

Whether Chrysler hits the right target with the Patriot remains to be seen. But the compact SUV segment offers Chrysler the best chance to revive a brand under siege, analysts say.

"The Patriot will face some criticism for being a car-base SUV by Jeep enthusiasts and consumers," said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc., a marketing and product consulting firm.

"But I don't think that the noise will be enough to stop people from considering the vehicle," Brinley said.
 

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And since the Compass/Patriot are run on the Caliber lines and use 90% of the same parts, Jeep can kill those models quickly (and with minimal financial impact) if they don't work out.
 

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I just can't warm myself to these vehicles; I certainly hope crossovers don't double by 2016. If you want an SUV, then get a real truck (atleast 1 solid axle and full frame). Or else, go with the AWD minivans.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
The want the female market that Honda and Toyota are getting with the Rav4 and the CRV. Time will tell.
 
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