Jeep has no plans to cede its domination of off-road adventure to competitors.
But that doesn’t mean the fight won’t be brutal.
Days are gone when Jeep owned the segment with little debate.
On Friday, Ford debuted a Ford Expedition Timberline Off-Grid concept that will be featured at the Overland Expo East in Arrington, Virginia, this weekend.
The one-off model is based on the new 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline series touted as “the most off-road-capable Expedition ever” with features including improved ground clearance.
It’s designed to show “a futuristic view” of family adventure, including a mobile basecamp,” Robert Varto, program manager of the concept, said in a Ford news release.
Vehicle accessories “help adventurers confidently trek to hard-to-reach mountainside trailheads, remote lakes and distant desert dunes,” the Dearborn automaker promised.
A popular term now is “overlanding,” which refers to travel by vehicle that goes beyond camping to include exploration of unusual and undiscovered destinations.
‘Going after them’
This rock crawling crowd has money to spend and automakers see dollar signs when adding special tires, wheels, cameras and features, including special tow hooks.
“Jeep is a global icon and it has kind of been king of the hill in off-roading,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “I think a number of makers have decided Jeep shouldn’t own that hill, so they’re going after them. Off-roading packages certainly generate more revenue and profit because they’re not the base model. And there’s a ready market.”
Fans of off-roading and overland adventure spend thousands of dollars on accessories.
Whether it’s the Toyota 4Runner TRD, Subaru Wilderness, Ford Bronco, Expedition and Explorer — all are coming after Jeep’s lunch money. Even Nissan features “Captain Marvel” actress Brie Larson narrating a TV commercial as a Nissan vehicle drives through the rocks.
It’s all about the vibe.
‘A little miffed’
“Jeep has had phenomenal success over the last decade. Sales have exploded all over the world as it has expanded its model line. It’s stunning that the rest of the industry let it get away with that for so long,” said longtime industry observer John McElroy, host of “Autoline After Hours” podcast and webcast.
“Ford is the first to show up with a credible competitor in the Bronco,” he said. “Jeep is a little miffed they’re finally facing some competition. And there’s more to follow. Nobody knew this whole Jeep brand could grow to be so profitable.”
While Ford has launched Bronco as a direct compete on the Jeep Wrangler, the Ford Explorer and Expedition now have Timberline features for off-roading. Explorer is arriving at dealerships now, Expedition in early 2022.
‘Not just marketing’
“I actually feel sorry for (Ford Explorer Timberline) customers that get tricked,” Jim Morrison, Jeep North America president, recently told musclecarsandtrucks.com. “You can paint a tow hook red. It doesn’t mean that behind the tow hook it would even hold up in the right moment that it needs to.”
He also poked fun at the Ford Bronco during the rain-soaked Detroit 4Fest at Holly Oaks in September, noting that sightings of the SUVs with well-known roof issues might be unlikely, musclecarsandtrucks.com noted.
“We design all of those Trail Rated elements from the ground up … it’s not just a marketing term, it’s capability that’s bred in. You don’t just put stickers and paint on things. We build it in with incredible capability,” Morrison said, according to musclecarsandtrucks.com.
A Stellantis spokesperson declined to comment to the Free Press on Thursday.
Just about every company these days has a big whiteboard in the planning room with every single Jeep model targeted, McElroy said.
‘So much money’
“Of course, you’ve got a bunch of copycats,” McElroy said. “They’re copying the segment that Jeep is in, not really copying Jeep itself. Jeep got there first. But others will follow because there’s so much money there.”
A basic 2022 Grand Cherokee Laredo starts at $37,390 while the all-wheel-drive 2020 Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is $50,275, plus delivery fees, according to Motor1.com. The top of the line Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve is $63,365.
These are the price ranges for off-road vehicles now.
The two-door 2021 Bronco begins at $29,995 for the base model, including destination fees. The four-door 2021 Bronco begins at $34,695 including fees and can be loaded up past $60,000.
Jeep, and Morrison, know the threat is real.
“The question isn’t which one can climb the rocky mountain but which one will have the most sales. That’s what matters most, if Ford can get these customers who are going to buy this big macho off-road truck,” McElroy said. “We know only a fraction will really take them off road.”