The reviews are breaking today on the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer. As Jeep resurrects one of its most historical full-size nameplates from a three-decade slumber, it’s getting a lot of positive press coverage. But Jeep is in for a world of disappointment in a couple of years.
The old SJ Wagoneer was undeniably an icon and needs its own Rare Rides story (I’ll get on that soon). Changed only minimally in a run from 1963 to 1991, the Grand Wagoneer was an old warhorse that sold to the well-heeled in a pre-Range Rover world. It was a world that didn’t have luxury SUVs in it, except the Grand Wagoneer. The press photo above shows you who bought it and is one of the best PR photos I’ve ever seen. Mister Jimmy Dallas and his third wife Carol, outside their favorite steak place.
But by Grand Wagoneer’s demise in 1991 the SUV market had changed. Competition came from all directions, on the domestic side as the Suburban became ever-more luxurious, and from Europe in the form of the Range Rover and (gray market) Mercedes G-Wagen. Fast forward to the present day, and the competition is even more intense. Just about every upmarket brand fields a full-size luxury SUV, whether of crossover or truck origins.
That hibernation from 1991-2022 is an issue for the Grand Wagoneer. Jimmy Dallas and Carol are dead or have moved on to one of the multitude of other prestige luxury SUVs. Domestic, European, Japanese, take your pick! People under the age of 35 or so who aren’t interested in car history don’t know what the Grand Wagoneer name means. Resurrecting the brand is handy for luxury SUV purposes, but they waited too long to do it. I won’t harp on that point any further, I’ll just say that Chrysler/FCA/Daimler/Stellantis has dropped the SUV ball since 1994 when the new Ram 1500 lacked an SUV sibling. They continue to drop this ball today.
The Grand Wagoneer is also too expensive. And I mean that given its branding, lack of prestige recognition amongst consumers, and frankly its dealership network. As Tim cited in his review, the Grand has a base price of $86,995 and climbs to $106,000 for a fully-loaded Series III example after destination charge. That’s full-lux pricing, in a league with the likes of Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX, and it’s more expensive than all trims of Lincoln Navigator. What’s the driving force behind this price? It’s based on a Ram truck platform (and that’s fine) and shares a Ram V8 (also fine). But Grand Wagoneer simply does not have the name recognition Jeep thinks it does. And when luxury customers walk into a Jeep showroom and talk to Chad Foursquare and are offered a small bottle of Aquafina, they’re not going to feel very luxurious.
I think Jeep is painting itself into the corner of model differentiation issues. There are now two Grand Cherokees (standard and L) on a unibody platform like always, and two Wagoneers (regular and Grand) based on the Ram 1500. To most observers, these all look the same, and they’re all “Jeep SUVs,” except the Wagoneers cost $35,000-$65,000 more than Cherokees that look the same and are roughly the same size. “Ah, but the Wagoneers are trucks and have nicer interiors,” you’ll say. Worth that sort of price jump though?
The new Grand Wagoneer needed wood slabs on the sides if it was going to pull off the distinct image of the old Grand Wagoneer. The styling cues are a bit too literal where they shouldn’t be (pillars, all the chrome trim) for Jeep not to take it all the way and slap some wood on the side. The Grand Wagoneer would’ve been in a class of its own at that point. Big, bold, and very American. They brought back an icon (too late) and then sorta half-assed it. Choosing white as its PR color of choice was also a mistake because it looks like a big floppy van-like whale. I’d never think it was truck-based, but rather a Grand Cherokee L-XL setup.
This leads me to Jeep’s eventual disappointment. With pricing sky high and a crowded field of bonafide luxury competition, I’m predicting slower sales than Jeep expects. It’ll sell at debut to some people who want to be different, don’t want a Range Rover, and are willing to put up with servicing at their Jeep-Eagle-AMC-Plymouth dealer at the local auto mall. There will also be a few moneyed AMC die-hard retirees who are willing to pay for the Grand Wagoneer name and park it next to their Matador in the garage. But these people will only buy one. In a couple of years I’m anticipating a big cliff face where Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer sales are concerned. At that point, Jeep will once again retire the icon. Perhaps this project might spawn the full-sizer ChryCo should’ve been making all along: a seven-passenger, three-row Ramcharger and Ramcharger XL.
[Images: Tim Healey / TTAC, AMC]
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