Back in the early 1960s the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation built a vehicle which would change the face of the planet for decades to come. As what is essentially the first luxury sport utility vehicle, the Wagoneer was delivered to the world in 1963. The design was so successful that it soldiered on largely unchanged for 29 model years. The only other vehicle I can think of with that kind of longevity is Porsche’s venerable 911, but the Wagoneer sold on a much larger scale.
Not only did the Wagoneer effectively kick off the idea that SUVs could be comfortably driven every day, an idea which has completely taken over the market all these years later, but that it didn’t have to compromise off-road chops in the process. The Wagoneer swept the world, creating a new niche and building a name for itself.
Jeep had an opportunity to change the face of the full-sized SUV market with the revival of the vaunted nameplate, but decided instead to phone it in by building an also-ran to compete with the already-a-dinosaur Cadillac Escalade. Build big chassis, install big gasoline V8 engine, do nothing new. While the new Wagoneer may cut reasonably stylish figure and deliver a luxurious interior, it doesn’t do anything that the market hasn’t already seen before.
There’s nothing here to be particularly proud of. The Wagoneer name is one that should invoke forward-thinking and deliver solutions for the future, not the recent past. I’ve been relatively optimistic about the future of Jeep lately as it makes big moves in the plug-in hybrid electric SUV space. With 4xe branded PHEVs in the Wrangler, Renegade, and Compass, plus the upcoming Grand Cherokee (hopefully soon to be renamed), I was optimistic that the new Wagoneer would launch with 4xe from the outset, at least in the higher trims. Instead, what we’re seeing is just more of the same from the now-dead FCA management.
Stellantis has an opportunity to change its future, but not if it keeps living in the past. Jeep is fooling itself if it doesn’t believe that the wealthy outdoorsy-types who are the target market for this aren’t also interested in working to save the environment. If we want to get anywhere close to a avoiding a planetary carbon disaster, we can’t stand for 12 mile per gallon SUVs in 2021. Fix your shit, Jeep.