Fiat’s ‘Baby Jeep’ Strategy Pays Off

2014 Jeep Cherokee Courtesy Chrysler

A little winter weather did nothing to stop Jeep last month.

The rugged SUV brand is fast becoming the crown jewel of Fiat, just a few months after the Italian automaker maneuvered for full control of Chrysler Group. The company said on Tuesday that it sold 15,940 Grand Cherokees in the U.S. last month, 26 percent more than a year earlier. Possibly more impressive, it sold almost as many Cherokee models, a stripped-down mini version of the Grand that first rolled out in October.

The Cherokee replaced the Liberty in Jeep’s lineup. It’s a nice little package, but the branding folks deserve just as much of a bonus as the engineers. They made sure the car was a clear choice for buyers who pined for the Grand Cherokee but didn’t need—or couldn’t afford—something so massive. The Liberty, by contrast, seemed like a patriotic one-off without a clear connection to the larger model.

The results are immediately apparent in the data released today. Fiat sold 36,096 baby Cherokees in the first quarter, a vast improvement over the 4,972 Liberty models in the same period last year.

Soon it will double down with the Jeep Renegade, an even smaller, cheaper option that Fiat unveiled in Geneva last month. It helps that buyers are clamoring for small sport-utility vehicles at the moment. In the first two months of the year, compact crossovers accounted for 11.6 percent of all U.S. vehicles sold, up from 9.7 percent a year earlier.

Ford Motor’s Escape dominates the space, but sales of that model slid slightly last month. Nissan Motor’s Rogue, however, came on strong with sales of 19,420 vehicles, 26 percent more than a year earlier.

What’s interesting about the Rogue—besides its long list of accolades—is that Nissan is now cranking them out of its plant just outside Nashville.

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