Jeep is one of the most famous brands in the world, and that recognition helps fuel sales and make the marque one of the shiniest gems in the Chrysler crown of brands. The world's most voracious car market, China, knows and loves Jeep vehicles well enough to fuel a sales boom that's got the company looking to add dealers and re-fire local production.
Chinese buyers snap up Jeep branded merchandise wherever they can find it, but the actual Jeep dealer network in China is only 120 strong. Still, sales were up 63 percent last year, and Jeep CEO Mike Manley is sure that could rise even further with better availability. "Our brand awareness and consideration is running way ahead of where our actual volumes are," Manley said.
Jeep was actually one of the first western automakers to make a foray into China when American Motors Corporation set up Beijing Jeep in the 1980s. Since that time, Jeep has gone through ownership and cashflow tumult, stopping Chinese production in 2006. Now, Chrysler is looking for a partner to work with so that more Jeeps can be available to buyers that are starving for the vehicles they perceive so fondly.
If production within China isn't re-started, Jeep may become just a memory. Right now, the Jeep models that are available in China are imported, and carry hefty price tags because of duties. Popularity of SUVs is high in China, and other manufacturers may not have the same image as Jeep, but with local production and lower prices, not to mention more dealers, availability may trump the Jeep mystique.