Iconic American sports utility vehicle brand Jeep is planning to make a global off-roader priced under Rs10 lakh in India, to compete with products such as the Ford Eco Sport and Renault Duster, and might possibly partner with Tata Motors for engines, transmissions, and even new products.
Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand which is part of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), said in Los Angeles that India is one of the "most critical" markets for the company as it looks at a stronger push into emerging markets that also include Brazil and China.
The mini SUV, which is still on the drawing board, will be the smallest in the company's line-up and India could be a global manufacturing hub for right-hand drive markets. India is also expected to take a lead in the development of the baby SUV as the company is targeting a sub 4-metre version, which attracts lower excise duty in the country and thus can be priced more aggressively.
Manley said at the Los Angeles Motor Show that the vehicle will be positioned "on top of the Eco Sport" and will be "very close" to the Ford vehicle. "The smaller one I would like to get it under the 4-metre regulation," he said.
Jeep has been making a strong comeback in the global automobile market and sold 1.2 million off-roaders last year. Now India is big on its radar.
Manley said that a partnership with Tata Motors could be explored, but did not answer specific queries on whether he was expecting a tie-up with the Indian company's British SUV brand Land Rover.
He said he is open to "discussions" on exploring "opportunities" with Tata Motors beyond the Ranjangaon joint venture (signed by its parent Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles) that produces vehicles for both companies. "Our relationship with Tata Motors is good ... from my point of view, I would be very open to discussions with Tata about opportunities where collectively we could win, and the market could win. I am very open to that," Manley told The Times of India when asked about possible joint product-development and vehicle platform strategies.
"Engines for sure, transmission for sure, various components for platforms for sure ... they (Tata) have a significant industrial footprint. If there are other opportunities, I will certainly look at that."
He said that the two companies "always talk to each other very regularly" and these discussions are "on a range of issues".
Jeep will be launching a new SUV, the new-generation Compass, over the coming months and this will be the first vehicle that it produces from its India factory at Ranjangaon.
While the Compass is likely to be positioned in the Rs15-20 lakh range, Manley said that the company will continue to look at building on the portfolio and this may include launching a locally-built Renegade off-roader below the Compass.
The company had made a debut in India earlier this year with the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee off-roaders. But since the vehicles are coming in as fully-built imports, these are priced in the top range.
The Wrangler is priced at Rs71.6 lakh with a 2.8-litre diesel engine while the Grand Cherokee is available in two engine options - 6.4-litre petrol (468 BHP power) and 3-litre diesel (240 BHP) - and these are priced between Rs93.6 lakh and Rs1.12 crore.
"Obviously, India is a very price-sensitive market, and there is a no doubt here," Manley said, emphasising the need for local manufacturing and having smaller-sized products. "But we would like to make sure that it's a proper Jeep and not just something dressed up as a Jeep. We would really like to make it into something for which the Jeep brand stands for."
The company has invested $280 million for the Jeep assembly at the Ranjangaon plant. Fiat Chrysler hopes that Jeep will take the lead in Indian volumes as Fiat is still struggling to generate interest in buyers.