An icon of the SUV boom in North America, Stellantis, 12 months short of what would have been the moniker’s 50th anniversary, confirmed that production of the Jeep Cherokee had officially come to an end.
From SJ to KK
Introduced in 1974 first as a three-door and then later a five-door version of the Wagoneer at a lower price, the Cherokee’s popularity really took off with the unveiling of the internally designated XJ in 1984, which remained so popular that it stayed in production until 2001, despite Jeep going through three parent companies during this stage; American Motors Corporation (AMC), Chrysler and then the amalgamation with Mercedes-Benz that resulted in DaimlerChrysler.
The XJ’s introduction also led to the creation of the more luxurious Grand Cherokee that replaced the original Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in 1993, although this model carried the ZJ internal moniker between 1993 and 1998.
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K.O. to KL
While succeeding versions of the Cherokee, renamed Liberty in the United States between 2002 and 2013, remained popular, the arrival of the controversially styled KL in 2014 based on Fiat’s Compact 4×4 platform didn’t sit well with enthusiast as sales started tumbling.
According to sales data released by Stellantis, US market Cherokee sales dropped from a peak of just under 240 000 units in 2018, to a smidgen over 40 000 in 2022.
In an interview regarding the Cherokee’s future last year, Jeep’s North American boss, Jim Morrison, told MotorTrend that a replacement is being worked on and that it will be “bigger and better than ever”, while company CEO, Christian Meunier, hinted in the same briefing that propulsion will be solely electric as Stellantis moves to an entirely electric future across all its brands by 2030.
Closure but not for all
According to the latest findings by thedrive.com, the final Cherokee, last updated in 2019, departed the Belvidere Plant in Illinois on 28 February, resulting in the factory itself going into what is believed to be a temporary idle as Stellantis negotiates with the United Auto Workers (UAW) about the future of the 58-year old facility.
At the completion of the last Cherokee, a reported 1 300 staff were laid-off in a move the UAW’s Director Brendon Campbell described as “economic blackmail” after Stellantis’ received “numerous and generous subsidies, federal loans, grants and tax abatement”.
“We are also working with interested members on the relocation process,” news site wsws.org quoted him as saying two days after the final Cherokee’s departure.
What it means for South Africa
In South Africa, sales of the Cherokee quietly ended in April 2021 after 13 units were sold during the five months of said year.
While it remains to be seen whether the eventual replacement will come to South Africa, the brand has committed itself to the local market after unveiling the new Grand Cherokee L and Gladiator bakkie last year.
In addition, it has also expressed interest in the Avenger, but only from 2024, while a closer bet for this year is the Commander known as the Meridian in India.