Wagoneer: Jeep Cautiously Launches a High-End Sub-Brand

2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
Jeep is likely to roll out a Wagoneer sub-brand following the debut of its all-new 2022 Grand Wagoneer (left) and 2022 Wagoneer (right), but the automaker will take time to gauge consumer reaction to the new models. Jeep

The new Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models will not only move Jeep upmarket, but also provide the foundation for an entirely new sub-brand targeting premium SUV buyers.

The move became apparent during an early preview of the two new full-size SUVs, which were notably devoid of any Jeep badging. The Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) off-road division is now working up additional products that will flesh out the new brand-within-a-brand.

Think of it like Range Rover, which added models like Evoque and Velar to its original Range Rover and Range Rover Sport SUVs, Rachel Fellrath, the senior marketing manager for the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs, told Forbes Wheels in an interview in New York. Land Rover has carved out a distinctly different identity for Range Rover from mainstream products such as the Discovery.

Exactly what will come next has yet to be worked out, and it likely will take several years before the next phase in the project comes together, several Jeep officials confirmed. But a slow-grow process is part of the strategy.

“The Grand Wagoneer needs space to define itself before adding more products,” Fellrath says.

Premium Appointments

Nonetheless, conversations with Fellrath and other Jeep officials provided some clues as to where the new sub-brand is heading, as well as the type of products it will offer.

Future offerings will pick up on some of the design cues just coming to market this month, including the tall side windows and upright pillars. Interiors will be be more lavishly outfitted than mainstream Jeeps and likely use details like the horizontal dash layout, insiders hinted.

The two Wagoneers will serve as the flagship products, the Grand model shining its halo with its mix of luxe details and high technology. That includes plenty of leather and wood as well as features such as a McIntosh audiophile sound system, Amazon’s streaming Fire TV technology and what becomes the first video screen for a front seat passenger to reach market.

Clearly, not all of that will show up on future products, but whatever we do, additional models will have to be premium, Fellrath says.

Electrified Powertrains

The Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer get two of the most powerful engine options available in the Jeep family. Power and performance will remain a key to Wagoneer going forward, Forbes Wheels was told. But, like the rest of the Stellantis family, the sub-brand will be adapting to an electrified automotive world.

“Electrification is the big opportunity for Jeep,” global CEO Christian Meunier said last month. “It’s an opportunity to make our products even more capable.”

During a media presentation, Meunier confirmed that all future Jeep vehicles will be offered with some form of electrified drivetrain technology, whether mild, convention or plug-in hybrids, or even full battery-electric production. The official goal is for electrified models to make up 70% of Jeep’s global sales by 2025, though Meunier said, “I think that’s on the low side.”

With fuel economy numbers only in the teens for city driving, both Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are widely expected to get some form of plug-in drive system. And, speaking on deep background, several officials said that could happen within a year or so after the initial launch.

Longer-term, larger all-electric Wagoneer branded products, possibly replacements for the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, will migrate to the new Stellantis STLA Frame platform. Smaller all-electric offerings could share one of the three smaller, skateboard-style platforms the automaker is developing. But they will be customized to retain the off-road capabilities for which Jeep is known, while adding the premium features that will underpin the Wagoneer sub-brand.

Moving Upmarket

Jeep’s decision to create a more premium Wagoneer brand is no surprise. It’s similar to the way a number of competitors have moved to draw in more upscale buyers. The most obvious comparison is to the bifurcated approach taking by Jaguar Land Rover, with its Range Rover lineup drawing customers willing to pay well above six figures.

While it hasn’t quite declared Denali a true “sub-brand,” General Motors has taken similar steps with the Denali moniker in the GMC lineup. On average, versions of its mainstream products such as the Sierra Denali pickup and Yukon Denali SUV command average transaction prices of around $10,000 more than regular GMC models, according to brand boss Duncan Aldred.

“Having a premium Jeep sub-brand makes sense, but it depends on how it fleshes out over time,” says Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with research firm IHS Markit.

Michelle Krebs, senior auto analyst with Cox Automotive, is even more skeptical. “There may be a value in setting up [a Wagoneer sub-brand] this way,” Krebs says, “but Jeep is such an iconic brand, with global recognition and cache they have to be careful not to throw that away.”

One of the challenges, Brinley and Krebs agree, will be to truly distinguish future Wagoneer products from those carrying the traditional Jeep badge. That’s easy with the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models since they’re by far the biggest vehicles in the family lineup and by far the most expensive.

But regular Jeeps have been moving upmarket, as well, as was made clear with the recent debut of another three-row offering, the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L midsize SUV. A top-line a near Summit Reserve will push to around $65,000 when fully loaded with features like a tow package and a rear seat entertainment package.

Cautious Roll Out

It’s no surprise, then, that Jeep isn’t rushing to flesh out the new Wagoneer lineup. Like Land Rover did with Range Rover, it wants to carefully define what such a new brand needs to be. In part, that means measuring consumer reaction to the first two models to reach market.

There are clearly examples of successful sub-brands, like the Land Rover Range Rover pair. Mercedes-Benz has, in recent years, more successfully separated different niches with its Mercedes-Maybach and Mercedes-AMG lines, and will now try to repeat that with its all-electric Mercedes-EQS family.

But there are other, failed efforts that provide clear notes of caution, starting with Chevrolet’s youth-oriented Geo sub-brand. And, while Toyota’s similar, youth-focused Scion started off hot with products like the original xB, it got frozen out when second-generation offerings misfired. The Japanese sub-brand was dropped in 2016.

Those are mistakes Jeep officials clearly don’t want to repeat.