The Jeep Cherokee May Come To China, But It's No Beijing Jeep

Fiat is reportedly close to a deal that will enable the new Jeep Cherokee to be assembled and sold in China. That may not sound like very big news because pretty much everyone's doing a deal in China these days. Maybe it's just a symbolic move to get Jeep Cherokee production back there.

Bloomberg reports that Guangzhou Automobile Group is likely to finalize a deal with Fiat-Chrysler to start making the revitalized Cherokee for Chinese consumption beginning in 2015, as part of the Italian company's renewed push in that market after its other products (including the Fiat version of the Dodge Dart) flopped.

This isn't the first time a Cherokee was called upon to make a splash in China.

The XJ Cherokee was a watershed moment in itself for the SUV market, but it was an even bigger move for American Motors and China. Beijing Jeep was one of the first and most important moves towards the U.S. producing and selling products there. Just weeks after President Carter signed the agreement to establish relations with China, AMC started the movements towards a deal to produce and sell its products in China. The first fruit of that labor came in 1985 when the Jeep 2500, the Cherokee to you and me, rolled off the line.

AMC was absorbed by Chrysler later in the '80s and kept Jeep involved in China, but with minimal investment. During the Daimler days, they actually lent the bones of the XJ to develop a Chinese military vehicle, the Beijing-Jeep 2022.

The whole Beijing Jeep initiative serves as one of the most fascinating early examples of the west doing business in Chia, as journalist Jim Mann explained in his book, Beijing Jeep: A Case Study Of Western Business In China, and is still looked to today.

And even after Beijing Jeep turned into Beijing Benz back in 2004 in the onslaught of the unraveling DaimlerChrysler, the XJ lived on in China as the Beijing Auto Works Knight S12, which looks a lot like a Cherokee you could've probably bought in 1999.

It serves to reason that Guangzhou Fiat-Jeep may not have as profound an impact on the Chinese auto market as the XJ did under AMC, Chrysler and Daimler. It's also unlikely that the Alfa-derived Cherokee will have the ubiquity of the XJ. And you have to stop and think what kind of impact Jeep could've had on the Chinese SUV boom had Beijing Jeep been more invested in, instead of Audi, BMW and Porsche being the popular off-roaders there.

But a Cherokee back in China is a big deal.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons