This week I’m talking to Jeep CEO Christian Meunier — and there’s a lot to talk about. Jeep just announced its second hybrid electric vehicle in the US, the Grand Cherokee 4xe. It also announced a plan for its first electric car in 2023 and to have EVs across the line by 2025, which is very soon. And it’s now part of a huge global car company called Stellantis.
So I wanted to know: why start with hybrids, instead of jumping straight to EVs? What does it mean to be the CEO of a brand like Jeep inside of a huge international company like Stellantis? How does the Jeep team make decisions about features and technology, and how much do they have to defer to a larger parent company? And what does it mean for Jeep, one of the most iconic American car brands, to be part of a huge global company now?
Christian and I talked about all of that, as well as how the chip shortage is affecting Jeep, what cars will look like in 2040, and Jeep’s use of the name “Cherokee” in 2021.
Yeah, this interview goes places.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Christian Meunier, you’re the global CEO of Jeep and you are on the Stellantis executive board. Welcome to Decoder.
Thank you for the invitation. It’s an honor and a pleasure for me to talk about the brand I’m leading. I’m very excited to have this opportunity to share everything and the technology in the pipeline for Jeep.
You’ve just announced a new plug-in hybrid Grand Cherokee and you announced you will offer hybrid options across the lineup by 2025. You also said there are some prototypes of full electric vehicles. So there’s quite a bit to talk about. But I want to start with some very basic questions — I think of them as the Decoder questions. Jeep was part of Chrysler, which was then merged into Fiat Chrysler, which was then merged with Peugeot to create Stellantis. Stellantis is a huge company.
Tell me how Stellantis is structured — how does it work? Because it seems like a gigantic company with some very famous brands, and I always wonder how it works with a structure like that. What kind of decisions do you get to make and what kind of decisions does this larger organization take for itself?
So it’s an amazing company that was created only a few months ago — at the beginning of this year in January. And since then, a lot has been accomplished. This is a company that incorporates 14 brands: 12 automotive brands and two mobile services, financial services and products of that nature. So I would say a house of brands. And it’s a house of brands with many, many different opportunities around the globe. A lot of brands that have a very, very strong history, a very strong heritage, and the good news is very few of them have any commonality in terms of customer targets and geographical coverage. So they are very complementary brands.
So the way it works within Stellantis is pretty simple. It’s a metrics organization where you have, basically, the regions, the functions, and the brand. And within the executive committee, the executives report to Mr. Tavares [Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares], we work it out and find the best solutions for the corporation. We do this with very strong support from each other to make things happen. And when there is an arbitration, obviously we have a CEO to make the final call. So pretty simple, pretty straightforward, and it is working very well so far.
I want to push on that a little bit though. Jeep is a pretty unique car brand. It has a long heritage. It has been owned by multiple companies over the years. What kinds of decisions do you make that are decisions that only Jeep should do? — We’re going to do high-end off-road vehicles. We’re going to offer 37-inch tires on a Jeep Wrangler — versus bigger car company questions, like what is the future of our platform? Where does that split happen for you?
So I think one of the challenges, obviously, is to have as many synergies as possible but keep the DNA of the brand intact. And that’s why the power of the global CEO is very important. So Carlos Tavares has appointed a global CEO for each brand and the role of these CEOs is to make sure that the integrity of the brand is there, that the DNA is there, and that we respect the product and we make it even richer. Instead of spending money on common technologies and common architecture, that really are common for 90 percent of the use cases, we spend the money on differentiation. It is a superb opportunity for each brand.
Because really, the things that need to be common don’t really make a difference to the customer, and we can commonize them. But the things that are different, really need to be different in terms of Jeep. Obviously there are a lot of components related to off-road, adventure, freedom, open air, the big tires, as you mentioned — and these are the things on which we will never compromise. So this makes it really interesting because obviously there are some trade-offs we do make, but at the end of the day, I think it gives us a lot of horsepower in terms of creating the infrastructure, the architecture, and then work from that architecture to develop the best product possible. And that is a fascinating opportunity for us.
You mentioned things that are differentiators; off-road ability, taking the roof off a Wrangler. What are the commonalities that you think don’t matter to the customer?
First, it’s a lot of things they don’t see. Second, the underpinning and then the tuning of everything related to electronics to make the product appropriate, for on-road performance for Maserati or an Alfa Romeo [two other brands owned by Stellantis] and off-road oriented for a Jeep Wrangler.
At the same time, the Jeeps that you used to know 10, 20 years ago have evolved a ton. I think the challenge we have now — and I think we deliver extremely well with the Grand Cherokee, the Grand Wagoneer and the new Jeeps that are in the market now — is to find that perfect balance between on-road and off-road performance. Because we don’t want to compromise on either one. The new Grand Cherokee that was just announced is that “wildly civilized” product that we’re very proud to bring, because we think we’re the best in class in both worlds.
So that’s really what we try to do with the Jeep. A Jeep is really about balancing the two. When you have Alfa Romeo, going full speed ahead on performance, pure performance, we can highlight the thing that matters to us. The design for Jeep is very, very critical. The capability on- and off-road, and more and more, I would say that the simplicity of the technology, the usability of the technology in the car, that is something all our customers are really requesting from us. Like the maps available on the screen. You don’t want to have 10 menus to go down the menus to find it. It has to be at your fingertips, and this feature doesn’t exist for the other brands. So these are the things we need to really figure out so that we deliver on the customer expectation for Jeep.
How big is the Jeep team that is just focused on making Jeep products?
It’s very difficult to give you an answer because a lot of people work on Jeep. For example, in the engineering team, obviously you have a platform program director. So you have people who are responsible for a platform and in that platform, they’re going to be responsible to deliver the profitability across [all of the Stellantis brands]. And then you have vehicle line engineers who are going to be specifically focused on Jeep. And there are vehicle line engineers who are focused on Dodge or on Ram. So they all have different objectives and there are obviously synergies between those. I’m talking about thousands of people. I think we have more than 35,000 engineers at Stellantis. And I’m not going to give you a number, but it’s thousands of people dedicated to Jeep today in that area. It would be pretty much the same on the industrial side, on the purchasing side. Obviously we purchase for all the brands, but you’re talking thousands of people 100 percent dedicated to Jeep at this moment.
I think I understand how it works for you as the global CEO of Jeep. You’re on committees, you’re looking out five, 10, 20 years in the distance, you’re making platform decisions, if you need to break a tie you’ve got Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares who helps break that tie. If you’re a middle manager or mid-level engineer at Jeep, how often does Stellantis come into play for you? How often is there a Stellantis decision that’s going to change your decision? If you’re the program manager for the Jeep Renegade, how often does that person have to think about Stellantis?
I think on the Jeep side, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that slogan, but: “We don’t make Jeep, you do.” When we talk to the customers, that’s always what we’re trying to do within the Jeep family and the community of Jeep. And everything we do is an answer to a request from the customer or something that we know is going to be very valuable for our community and our customers. That’s really the number one thing we always have in mind. In terms of the Stellantis way, obviously I wouldn’t say that by any means the Stellantis way is completely finalized. There are a lot of things still in motion. The fact that the brands have a lot of power is a benefit. It forces us to find smart solutions to deliver on what the customers need for each brand, and emphasize that.
So we’re going to have that 90 percent commonality [with other Stellantis brands] on ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems), we’re going to have a 90 percent similar approach to software, but we’re going to have that 10 percent difference which is going to be personalized for Jeep. Personalization for Jeep is very important because when you drive off-road, there are certain things you need to bring up to your screen and other functions you don’t need. So it’s very important that we have that ability to personalize. Each brand has their own customer target, but we find ways to commonize 90 percent and get the synergies through 6, 7, 8 million vehicles that we’re going to build on only four platforms. So as you might know, we have four platforms within Stellantis, which were announced during the EV Day we had a few months ago. There’s STLA Small, STLA Medium, STLA Large, and STLA Frame. These four platforms are basically going to cover the entire world of our 12 brands.
And obviously it’s going to be up to each brand to define, okay, these are the 10 percent that I need to change. This is the core of my brand DNA. And we’ll get even more differentiation between brands, because we’ll put the money where the customer really wants and not in the core or base technology, the connectivity, autonomous drive, or the electrification. In many cases there will be 80, 90 percent commonality between a Jeep and a Ram for example, right? But the 10 percent will make a big difference in drivability, off-road capability, towing capability, and things like that.
You mentioned Ram. I’ve been thinking about how to ask this question and I’m just going to ask it: Jeep and Ram in this country are marketed as very American brands. There are literally American flags on the side of the new Grand Cherokee. There’s the military heritage for Jeep. Ram makes the TRX which is a 700-horsepower supertruck, it’s a gigantic truck. But Stellantis is now largely a European company. How does that connect? Do you still think of these as American car companies? Is there a disconnect between the European DNA of the larger company and these two specific brands? How do you manage that?
I don’t think there is any disconnect. I don’t think it’s an American company or a European company. I think it’s a global company that will make sure that the power of each brand and their heritage stays intact and is reinforced in the future. You might have seen that a new CEO of Chrysler has just been appointed. We want Chrysler to not only survive, we want Chrysler to become as strong as its great heritage and we want Chrysler to take off again. Maybe in a different way, but it’s very clear that we have strong ambition for each of these brands.
The CEO said something really interesting recently. That the center of gravity is not in Paris, it’s not in Turin, it’s not in Auburn Hills in Detroit, or in Brazil, or in China. The center of gravity is somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And Carlos Tavares himself said, “I’m Portuguese, from a small country that nobody knows where it is, and it doesn’t matter.” I think culturally, we’re building something very, very exciting.
We’re building a house of brands, but we’re also building a culture of diversity which is going to give us a really strong advantage compared to some of the big players in the world, which are either German, Japanese, or whatever, but very, very centric to one type of culture and one continent. I think we have the opportunity with this, through its diversity of race, diversity of sex, diversity of background, and regions and everything, to really target with all 12 different brands, a lot of different customers without, once again, stepping on each other’s toes, which was a little bit the fear when we merged.
I don’t know if it answered your question.
It did. Here’s a specific version of that question. When you build the Grand Cherokee for the European market, are you going to put American flags on the side?
The American flag is going to stay only for the US market because we thought it was a very nice wink to the Americans and they love it.
It’s true, they do.
They do like it. At the same time we believe that it’s not the most important thing, even though it’s very American. People recognize in Europe that Jeep is American, but we’re not going to put the flag. We don’t want to alienate anybody. We sell everywhere in the world. We don’t want to enter any kind of political games. We’re an American brand, we’re very proud of it. I’m not American myself, but my three kids are American, I might become American in a few months. I’ve been living in the US for so many years and I think we’re very proud of the heritage, but it’s not about just making a big claim about it. But we love our American flag on the Grand Cherokee and the Grand Wagoneer. We think it’s awesome.
I just want you to know, Ferraris are often just painted in the Italian flag. The question is, as you become a much more global company and you use these platforms to sell these vehicles around the world, does that sense of place disappear?
I think the roots of our brand is a very important part of the company because it goes back 80 years, to when the Willys were made, and its relation to D-Day. Being originally French, I know what it represents: the freedom of Europe, the war against the Nazis, the Americans basically freeing France and Europe. So it has a big weight to carry, and I think there is a lot of pride in the company to keep that going the right way.
So I think the American heritage is going to be there. But think about Jeep today versus what Jeep was just before 2010. We were selling 300,000 cars at the time, 300,000 Jeeps a year and it was all represented in the US. The Jeeps were only built in the US at four plants. Now we manufacture in six countries and 10 plants. We sell in more than 110 countries and we sell roughly five times more volume than we used to sell in 10 years. So I think the brand has completely evolved, it has become a global brand, but still very, very strongly rooted in the US, for sure.
Let’s talk about the new Grand Cherokee. You announced it after a bit of a COVID dilemma — you were going to announce it at the New York Auto Show, but that was canceled. It was announced online. It’s finally here, including a hybrid version that can run for 20-odd miles on the battery alone. This is the same basic engine setup as the plug-in Wrangler, which is already on sale in the US. The Wrangler’s doing quite well here, yeah?
Yeah. We launched plug-in hybrid models in Europe a little bit more than a year ago with the Renegade and the Compass. They have been a really, really strong success. Now we’re number one in Italy, which is our largest market with what we call 4xe. We don’t call it plug-in hybrid because we built the most capable Jeep with electrification. It’s not only about electrifying for compliance and better fuel economy and sustainability. It’s also because we bring to market the best Jeep, the most capable Jeep, the most fun to drive Jeep. And we can drive off-road in silence, which we believe is the ultimate fun stuff to do. The Wrangler, we launched at the beginning of this year, and we’re now number one in the US for plug-in hybrid. And we’re sold out for the rest of the year; ahead of some brands which have had hybrid systems for many years, which I’m not going to mention.
So we’re doing extremely well. And we’re launching the Grand Cherokee two-row with 4xe at the beginning of next year in the US, and then across the globe. So we believe we have something really big. Because electrification for Jeep is not just a must because we need to comply and we need to sustain. It’s much bigger than that. We believe that with the torque you can get plus the silence, that we’ll have something really huge ahead of us. And obviously the choice to use plug-in hybrid technology might be a bridge to pure electrification. We’ve announced that in 2025, we’ll have a BEV [battery electric vehicle]. So a pure electric battery electric Jeep in every SUV segment. That means we need to really work hard to get there, but we’re going to get there. We’re really ahead of the game and we want to keep that image because we think it’s a perfect match for Jeep. This is a big change compared to the Jeep of five or 10 years ago, but so far it’s really getting a lot of traction.
You mentioned that Renegade and Compass are bestselling plug-in hybrids in Italy. Why aren’t they on sale in the United States?
We have a lot of studies on that. The Renegade and Compass sit in a segment in the US where the price point is much lower. It’s a lot more challenging to bring a product with that kind of technology in these entry segments. That will change in the next two to three years when there will be lower-cost solutions, more efficient solutions. The cost of the battery is going down. The cost of the sales are going down. We will bring some smaller vehicles with full electrification to the North American market. But for now, we’ve decided not to bring the Renegade or the Compass to the US market.
Is that because European buyers will pay premium prices for smaller cars than American buyers will?
Yeah, smaller cars are more premium in Europe than they are in the US. I would say that the smaller cars in the US are more about transportation and they need to stay within certain price bands. Otherwise people tend to buy bigger cars or bigger SUVs. So we are focusing on larger segments right now and very quickly, we’ll cascade all these technologies down to smaller models.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this tweet, there’s a very popular tweet about the Wrangler hybrid. The Wrangler hybrid is the best selling plug-in hybrid in the United States, as you said. And there’s a tweet of a guy saying, “My neighbors across the street bought this car. They didn’t even know it was a hybrid. I showed them that they could plug it in.” How many people are buying the hybrid, the Wrangler hybrid, because it is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle versus how many people are just buying a Jeep Wrangler, do you think?
I think it’s both. I think a lot of customers that would’ve bought an ICE [internal combustion engine] are buying this one because they think that it’s really cool. I think it gives them more capability off-road. It’s fun to drive, actually, I don’t know if you’ve driven it, but it’s really fun either in a hybrid mode or in pure electric. In pure electric it’s really a blast. No sound, like I said. And it’s fun, it has a lot of torque. And in states where sometimes we’ve had some image issues, being labeled as a gas guzzler, in California notably, we’re doing extremely well with the 4xe plug-in. Because people can do both and they can commute and drive their 10, 15, 20-mile commute a day, feel good about it, and rightfully so. And then when they have a longer distance, they use the hybrid system to get better fuel efficiency. And I think it’s the best of both worlds. We’re attracting new people into the brand, which is really cool. And that’s also the purpose of it.
Technology is driving a lot of conquest. I was looking at statistics a few days ago, in 2012 for Jeep and other brands within the ex-FCA [Fiat Chrysler] portfolio, 30 percent of the conquest owners say technology influenced their decision. So it’s not that technology was not a big deal back then, it was still 30 percent. And I think it helped us grow the Jeep brand significantly when a product like the new Grand Cherokee at the time that we released it, beginning of 2012, had quite a lot of technology for the time. And we attracted new people. We had a lot of conquests. Now in 2022, 75 percent of conquest buyers say technology influenced their decision. So if you have great technologies that respond to the customer, you have a lot more chance to get conquests. So technology is now really important.
Just to be clear, conquest is when somebody owned a car from a different brand and they bought a Jeep?
Yeah, from another brand. Yeah, you make a conquest from another brand than Jeep, attract new people into your brand.
And you’re saying that out of the people who switched brands, the percentage who are doing it because of technology is increasing very quickly?
Yeah, technologies and refinement. And I would say that if you look at the Jeeps today and the Jeep of five or 10 years ago, it’s almost day and night. They’ve maintained their capabilities. They’re still very, very strong among the off-road players. But at the same time the refinement and the technology you get in the car is at par or better in many cases than the competition. Look at the Grand Cherokee or the Grand Wagoneer. I don’t think we’ll have any kind of issue comparing to the best of the best of the premium brands. So I think we bring the best of both worlds with Jeep. And I think the 75 percent that really pays attention to technology, the sky is the limit. I think when they discover the new Jeep, they fall in love with it. And I think with 4xe that’s what’s going to happen.
So I’m a product reviewer. I’m well aware that sometimes what product reviewers think and what the market says are extremely disconnected. The Wrangler’s selling well. But I read the reviews in Car and Driver and the Wall Street Journal, and they were both pretty harsh about this car. They said that the battery made it heavy, it made the handling worse, and notably, that once the battery was depleted, the actual fuel economy of the gas engine was low. It was around 20 miles per gallon. Is that an appropriate set of trade-offs? Do you think people are just going to run it on the battery all the time and the gas engine is a backup?
I think the best way to really leverage that technology is to charge it every morning, every night. And we really push hard for customers to invest in the Level 2 charger at their home, because it makes the driving experience, beyond the fuel economy itself, much better. It makes the driving experience totally different. A lot more fun, a lot smoother. And at the end of the day, they save money. Especially if they have a short commute — why not do it? You just buy these Level 2 chargers, which are very affordable now, you install them in the garage and in two hours, your car is charged 100 percent. We really push hard on this. And I would say the vast majority of the buyers do. I encourage you to look at all the groups that exist on Instagram, Facebook, etc., on social media, there are a lot of 4xe clubs now, 4xe fans, and thousands of them. We’re not talking hundreds, we are talking thousands, tens of thousands.
And these people are truly passionate about it. They’re geeks. They dismantle the systems. They want to know how it works. Some guys have driven a hundred miles — a hundred miles — by using the regen function. So they use the regen function within the best condition and everything to drive only on electric or regeneration between fuel and the battery. And they’re having fun with it. And I think part of the experience is to max the effect. If you just buy a 4xe and never charge it, I think you lose a lot of the experience. So that’s sad. You lose the sustainability part of it, which is appreciated, which should be appreciated. And second, you lose the fun-to-drive aspect that you get when you have both an ICE and an electric engine. You have a lot more power and torque, it’s a lot more fun. And Americans like power, they like torque. So why wouldn’t they do it? And it’s cheaper.
I agree. Do you know the attach rate of Level 2 chargers to 4xe sales? Do you know if every Jeep dealer who sells a 4xe is selling a Level 2 charger? What’s that percentage?
It’s hard to tell because there are a lot of aftermarket solutions. There are hundreds of different providers. You can find them on Amazon. You can find them everywhere. We have some recommendations, but usually customers do it their own way. And it’s very easy to do now.
Do you collect telemetry from the cars? Do you know how many cars are being charged, how the battery states are going?
Yeah, of course we do.
They are connected.
Yeah, we do. Within the privacy laws, of course we know. Yeah, we do. And the vast majority of the customers do it, the vast majority of the customers have a Level 2 charger. And the vast majority charge on a daily basis. We know that. Especially in California, it’s not 100 percent, but it’s 90 percent plus.
I was just talking to Ford CEO Jim Farley. He said they’re building some new plants here. One of the things he mentioned to me was that there’s a shortage of trained technicians who can handle the complexity of these cars. Obviously a hybrid system is much more complex than battery only, or gas only. Are you feeling the same shortage of technicians, people that train up to service these cars over their lifetimes?
Yeah, we’re starting to. And I think one of the challenges is to get the training up and running for the technicians and the salespeople and basically get them ready for the bigger volume that is coming. I would say that for now the mix of sales is still pretty small. When you think about North America, it’s roughly 5 percent. In 2025, between BEV and PHEV [plug-in hybrid electric vehicle], it’s going to be around 35 to 40 percent. So obviously our challenge is to make sure that first we have educated the customer by making sure they understand exactly what the product is going to do and not do.
And as important, I would say, is the technician, the training of the technicians, of the receptionist, to find the right solutions to the problems. Because yeah, to your point, these are different technologies. I would say the plug-in hybrids do have a little bit of complexity because it has gas and electric — it’s not simple technology. So we’re putting a lot of effort into this technology and the training with our technicians in the network. The good news is the sales are usually pretty concentrated in very big metro and secondary markets. So it’s not like the entire network is selling a lot of volume of the hybrids everywhere. So we are able to really put a lot of effort in the big metro areas.
Do you think you’re always going to sell hybrids or do you think by 2025, 2035, when you’ve got battery electric vehicles in every segment, you’re going to start phasing out hybrids?
As a company, on a global level, we’re committed to sell 40 percent BEV by 2030. I think Jeep is going to be ahead of that. I think we have a product plan in the pipeline which is going to be ahead of that. I think there will be a transition. I think Europe is a little bit ahead of the game. I think China as well. So I think acceleration is faster. But I think the US is following suit very quickly, especially in the D and above segment, so the segment of the Cherokee and above, electrification is a must because of the efficiency you get through electrification. Either BEV or plug-in hybrid or hybrid.
Then on the smaller segment, I think we’ll keep some abilities to keep the more traditional hybrids for a longer period of time to keep them affordable. And I think when the cost of electrification goes down, which we expect between 2025 and 2030, I think slowly but surely a ramp up of the smaller segment to electrification will happen. To answer your question, I think in 2030 the proportion of ICE sales, the traditional ICE, is going to be much smaller, at least for Jeep in North America. And the hybrid will become a minority of sales.
Almost every CEO I’ve talked to, especially the car CEOs, have mentioned the chip shortage as being a huge problem that does not seem to be resolved anytime soon. How is the chip shortage affected Stellantis and how has it affected Jeep?
It’s definitely a pain. It’s a new pain that we have to deal with. It’s a severe crisis that all manufacturers have to deal with. I would be tempted to say that we have all teams on deck to get it done and to find solutions. Engineering, trying to find software solutions, change in software solutions, change in parts, change in design. We need a lot of versatility, flexibility to manage that.
Sometimes, unfortunately, we lose volume on production. So on the small Jeeps in the United States, we’ve been losing quite a lot of volume and unfortunately we’ve lost some market share. At the same time, we’ve been able to protect the launch of the Grand Cherokee, of the Grand Wagoneer. We’ll protect the launch of the two-row and the 4xe because they’re very strategic. So I would say altogether it’s a pain that we’ve been able to manage. I don’t think we’re out of it. I think we have many months ahead of us where we’re going to have to manage that. Hopefully, there’s some manufacturing that will take place in the next couple, three years in North America, in Europe, because today we’re too reliant on Asia.
It’s too bad that we discovered it so late in the process, but so far, so good for us. I think we’re finding our way. We have very strong people in the company and good collaboration to find solutions. Every day it’s another crisis and every day requires new innovation, new thinking, new ideas to find our way through. And so far we’ve been able to maneuver around it.
One thing that a number of people have said to me is that the real crisis is in the older technologies. No one’s going to invest in building older kinds of chips. That’s where the constraints are. As you bring up new products like Grand Cherokee, Wagoneer, I’m assuming they’re using newer chips, has that been a dynamic that you’ve seen?
It’s not a question of old chips and new chips. I think it’s more of a matter that the car industry represents only 5 percent of the chip industry. So the weight of the car industry is not big enough to get exactly what is needed. Obviously, in the future we’ll all pay a lot more attention to this and we’ll make sure that the supply chain of these chips and the commitment from the manufacturers are going to be there for us so we don’t have to deal with this again in the future. But I think it’s more the fact that electronics have been selling very, very fast. The volume has been through the roof during the COVID time. And I think it has taken some capacity away and now it’s hard to catch up.
And plus all the issues we’ve seen with Malaysia, Indonesia, around COVID, and plants shutting down. So there are a lot of different things that pop up because we’re very tight in supply. When you have 200 percent capacity you don’t see the problem. But when you’re at 92 or 90 percent capacity and there is an issue, a crisis, a plant closing, then it becomes a disaster. That’s why you need to find a solution. And now we are below 100 percent capacity. So whenever there is an issue, just a little glitch in the system, it becomes a big problem. I think that’s where the problem is today.
Take a guess: do you think you’ll sell any gas engines in 2040?
Yeah. Just five years after the farthest timeline you’ve announced. Do you think you’ll have any gas engines?
I’ll be tempted to answer that no traditional ICE will be in a Jeep in 2040, but maybe I’m wrong. We’re a global brand, so we’ll be accommodating different markets. But I think all the markets in the world are evolving in the direction of electric. And you can take the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, India, China], you can say India, you can take Brazil, you can take China. Obviously China has made the move to electrification, but even India is moving, putting incentives to bring BEV there. They want to have BEV built in India. Latin America is a little slower because they have the flex fuel and obviously there are some other political and economical ramifications to it. But think about a country like Brazil, it’s 100 percent hydroelectric. So they produce electricity from water. So that’s a pure cycle. There is no detriment to nature. So it’s a really good technology and over time they will move into electrification. So 2040, it’s going to be very small if there are any gas engines.
One of the big stumbling blocks to full electrification is charging networks. You can have a vision of all electric cars everywhere in 2040. Here in 2021, Tesla has a great charging network and every other company has a bad charging experience. That is just the way every review has gone. It’s the way my experience with electric vehicles has gone and it’s the way other people with electric vehicles feel. How do you see that expanding?
I think the responsibility of our governments, whether it is in the US or in Europe or elsewhere, is to accelerate. Because it is one thing to put pressure on compliance, it’s another thing to make sure that everything else follows and you put the right focus to get the grid in line. I think the risk would be that the grid is not supporting all these electrification efforts. So that’s a risk. But I think it’s the responsibility of our government to do that. Obviously we’ll work with them. We’re pushing them because it has to happen quicker than it’s currently happening. And it’s also on the production of electricity.
At some point in time, we’re going to have to do something to produce more electricity to support all these needs. I’m hearing that in California there is some recommendation to use the grid at certain hours and things like that because there’s not enough to support the electric cars on the road already. So that’s a big challenge. And it has to be solved between, I would say now and 2023-2024. Because the volume of electric cars sold in the United States, in North America, in Europe, is going to be much higher. There are strong plans that are being developed but it’s going to be about execution. So the government will have a lot of pressure to deliver on that mission.
So you’re putting this on the government? The Biden administration has some plans. The bills have not passed, but they have some plans. Is doing hybrids first a way to avoid this problem? We’re going to sell hybrids, people charge at home, they’ll get the benefit on commutes, and for the long range, they have the gas engine and we’ll just wait for the infrastructure to be there before we go to battery? Or are you actively pushing on a charging situation?
I think we need to do both because we need to be realistic and pragmatic. The world is not ready for having 50 or 100 percent of the cars on the road be electric. So, I think we need to be pragmatic. And, I think plug-in hybrids is a good technology to bridge. But, the second thing is, it’s not only the government’s responsibility; obviously the government needs to put in the infrastructure, but also put in the regulations that force new construction to have charging stations in the parking lots — new private or commercial buildings, to have charging stations.
It should become mandatory because it’s going to be needed. Also, working with, potentially, the current gas distributors, with all the different supermarkets and hypermarkets around the globe. There are a lot of initiatives going on. So, you will see an explosion, I would say, of the charging stations in the next two to three years. Today, it’s still pretty small in the US. The number of BEVs is still minuscule compared to the 17 million potential market in the US.
I was talking to Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath, who obviously cares way more about charging than you do; Polestar is an electric car company. I asked him, “Have you talked to Tesla?” And he said, “Yeah, sometimes we talk about working together, and then it goes away.” Elon Musk has recently made some more comments on opening up the superchargers to work with other cars, is that a conversation you’ve had, or that Stellantis has had with Tesla?
We have discussions, obviously, with all the OEMs, Electrify America, all the providers of the charging stations, because I think it’s in everybody’s interest to find a solution that will work for everybody. When Tesla starts selling more volume, they’re going to need more charging stations as well, and they won’t be able to be standalone. So, I think it’s really going to be a common need for all the manufacturers to find a common solution. It’s not about having a unique solution by brand, it’s never going to happen. I think it’s going to have to be a public infrastructure that is available to all the brands for that to work when you reach 30, 40, 50 percent electric vehicles.
Think about 8 million cars. You’re on the highway, you’re going home for your Thanksgiving family reunion, and you’ve got 50 percent of the cars on the highway going for one charging station — that’s not going to work. So we need to find a way to get that done. And we have a few years, but we don’t have that many, because we’re cranking out electric vehicles. All the manufacturers are going, but it seems that we’re a little faster than the grid. So, the grid is going to have to move, and more important than that is the electricity. We need to find the solutions to produce that electricity that we don’t have today.
When you say, all the manufacturers need to find a solution, are you talking about charging standards? Are you talking about battery systems? Where does the standardization need to happen?
What do you mean? The batteries and the systems?
It could be the plug, right? All the cars are going to use the same plug, which they don’t all do right now, or it could be charging speeds, a deeper part of the tech stack. It could be battery technology and two-way communication between the battery and the grid. There’s a lot of places to standardize that are not standardized now. Where do you think the most important place is?
For the most part, you can charge a BEV in whatever charging station, you just need an adapter. Over time, I think the plugs are going to become the same. You remember — maybe you don’t because you’re a younger man — but the VCR, there was BetaMax and VHS.
I appreciate that you think that I’m that young, but I remember. Thank you, it’s a nice compliment.
It’s a pleasure. But, at one point there will be one standard for plugs. I think the technologies are getting a lot more homogeneous for battery sales, for the technologies. And, by 2025, 26, I would imagine that you’re going to be able to charge everywhere. It’s going to be pretty common practice to charge everywhere. You won’t have millions of different alternatives. Maybe there will be different companies providing different services, but the standards are going to be the same.
One of the things other companies seem to be doing is creating new brands for their electric vehicles. So, Ford has the Mustang Mach-E, it’s a whole new car. They’ve got the Lightning. Chevy has the Bolt. Toyota, famously, has the Prius. You have not done that. You have not created new electric vehicles. You’ve electrified, hybridized, your existing vehicles. Why do that? Why not split it out and make it clear. “This is a technology brand that offers this, and these are our existing cars.” Why hybridize the existing vehicles?
Because Jeep is going to become electric. There’s no point in having another brand. Jeep is going to become electric. So, it’s going to become, at one point, 100 percent electric. The question is, how fast? It will go through different stages, but it’s going to be a pure electric brand at some point in 10, 15, 20 years. So, I think there is no point in doing this, at least for Jeep. There’s no reason to do it.
When manufacturers really believe in electrification, why do that? I don’t really get it. Why would you create another brand for electric cars, when you’re going to keep your ICE? So, you’re going to have a polluting brand and a non-polluting brand. I don’t understand. The philosophy for Jeep, for me and for the company, is to accelerate electrification because we believe that’s the right thing to do. And for Jeep, we make the cars even more capable off-road. So, we’re jumping, we’re embracing it. We’re going full speed ahead with it. So, no real reason to do that.
This is half a trick question, because you have split out one line of vehicles, not totally away from the Jeep brand, but you have some ultra premium full-size SUVs now, called the Wagoneer and the Grand Wagoneer. They’re connected to Jeep, but they’re off to the side, I would say. They don’t have a lot of Jeep logos on them. They say “Wagoneer” on the steering wheel. Why split off that?
Wagoneer is definitely the premium extension of Jeep. We’re not separating from Jeep though. They will be sold in the Jeep network, but they’re going to be premium. They’re going to offer more. They’re going to be, I would say less focused on the off-road performance, more focused on the premium and on-road performance, even though the off-road capability is really, really good. So, the product is more about premiumness than anything else. We needed to offer a next-level customer experience. That’s why we called it Wagoneer. If you look at Wagoneers, the Grand Wagoneer has a few hints to Jeep all over. In the headlights, you have little Jeep logos and everything. We’re not ashamed of it. It has a seven-slot grill. So it’s still very much rooted in Jeep, but it’s all about the premium experience. And we can offer additional services and add additional care for the customer, which we believe is appropriate.
So, the Wagoneer is a large SUV, it competes with Escalades and other huge SUVs. It has a V8 engine in it. When will the Wagoneer get a hybrid drivetrain, or a battery drivetrain?
So, electrification is on its way, and we’re going to electrify Wagoneer too. That’s all I can say at this moment — but we will.
As I’ve spoken to other car executives, the size of cars determines whether or not you can put a battery in it. Like, the Wagoneer is really big. I cannot think of a vehicle that size that is a full electric. Is that a stopping point for you? Do you see a solution to that problem? Is it on the roadmap, or is that what you’re working to solve?
But, we’ve announced that we’re going to have a Ram 1500 electric. So, I don’t know why we couldn’t do the same on a Wagoneer. It’s similar size, similar weight, similar towing capacity, more seating. We have solutions to it. We’re working on it.
I would say, the back half of a pickup truck is just an empty box. So, there are some differences.
Yeah, there are. There are, but it’s possible. There are obviously a lot of things to do, but it’s possible and we’re going to make it happen. Electrification is going to be across the segments. It’s not going to be limited to a few.
I have to ask one more question on names. By quirk of timing alone, you and I are speaking on Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in the United States. You’ve just announced a new Grand Cherokee. Last year, the Cherokee Nation came out and said, “It’s time to stop using this name.” Have you talked to them? Are you going to keep using the name? How is that going?
We’re having weekly conversations with the Cherokee Nation, and we’re very respectful of them. We have a very good relationship with them. I would say that, I’m not going to comment more, but we’re establishing a really good relationship with them. And, so far we’ve been okay. We’ll see how things evolve. But, we’re in constant touch. We don’t want to create any problems. We’re very respectful, and that’s all I can say. So far, so good.
Was there any thought to, “Hey, we’re putting out the new version of the car. It’s a good time to change the name”?
We love the name. We think it’s a big name. And, we’ve heard a lot of people from the nation that love the name. They think it’s an honor to have their nation’s name on a great car. So, we’ll see where it leads us, but we’re working with them on finding the right solutions in the future. It’s very important.
Editor’s note: After the interview we reached out to the Cherokee Nation for comment on what Christian told us. A Cherokee Nation spokesperson said:
The Cherokee Nation has had a few calls and/or virtual meetings with the Stellantis leadership, the last one in June, 2021.
Chief Hoskin has publicly commented on the Cherokee name for marketing/branding by corporations as well as the harm Native mascots create for schools and in team sports. Those views have not changed.
Neither Chief Hoskin or anyone in his administration has ever expressed the idea that the company’s use of our name is a great honor.
Alright. I’ve asked enough questions about the outside of the car. I want to ask about the inside of the car. There’s a lot of technology in the new Grand Cherokee and the Wagoneer. And a lot of decisions, I think, connect to how Jeep, inside of Fiat Chrysler or inside of Stellantis, makes decisions.
Uconnect 5 is in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Wagoneer. It runs Android, but it doesn’t use Google services. It has Amazon Alexa and you have a different map, a non-Google map. The backseat entertainment system runs Fire TV. Is that a Jeep decision? Is that a Stellantis decision? How does that come to be? If you decided, “I think we need Google Maps to compete,” could you make that switch?
I would say, it was a decision that was made a few years ago, when we developed the Grand Cherokee and the Grand Wagoneer and the Wagoneer. I think we’ll have a good package altogether. Can we change in the future? Yes, of course. And, I would say that the infrastructure that we get will be on Stellantis vehicles across the board. We’ll have a common solution. And as I said, it’s all going to be about personalization and adding modules.
When I look at the Grand Cherokee and what we’ve been able to deliver, we had a lot of debate a few years ago, two and a half years ago, why do we need seven or eight screens? You think about a Grand Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer, we have eight screens, [or at least] seven screens. We have a cluster. We have the heads-up display. We have two screens in the middle. We have a passenger screen and two behind, and we have the rear view mirror, which is also a screen if you have a Summit Reserve or the top of the line. A lot of people were asking, “Why do that?” It’s very clear what you can do with seven screens.
First, we’re very proud to make shotgun the best seat in the car again. That position used to be a nice position. And over time, that position, the passenger seat in the front, has been a little bit neglected. You didn’t have anything for you. The driver had all the controls, including the one for the rear seat entertainment. You had the rear seat entertainment. You had the driver. The shotgun was completely neglected. So, with a passenger screen, we give the passenger in the front seat a lot more control over everything. Control of the entertainment system in the back, plus potentially taking care of the navigation system. Pushing the destination, doing all kinds of things, because it interacts with all the screens.
And as a driver, now you have your heads-up display, you’ve got your speed and your maximum speed. You get the directions on your instrument cluster. In the upper screen you can have the music that you listen to, potentially with headphones so that you don’t bother anybody else, and you have your massage seat so you can get a massage. You’ve got ADAS, L2 or L2 Plus, hands-free, and you can enjoy yourself, but the passenger is not bored anymore. With all this technology every passenger has a new story, and the Fire TV, you give that to a three-year-old in the back, they can watch something on Netflix. Get into the car, in two seconds, he gets it.
But, I’m curious about the choice of platforms here. It is unusual that I’m talking to a car CEO and I say, “Why did you pick Fire TV as your TV operating system?” I’ve talked to a lot of car CEOs, this is the first time it’s come up. How did you decide, “Okay, we’re going to go with Amazon’s platform and not Roku’s”?
It’s a corporate decision and it’s a matter of technology. We went for Alexa and we had a relationship with Amazon. I’ve been able to come up with a good package, a solution that we believe works well at the right price, right time. I think it’s a combination of things. It’s a partnership at the right time to get things that we believe were the right ones at the time. And I think we deliver on that. So far our customers, the first ones, are really happy with it, and it works. I think it’s about the package you bring. Amazon is a pretty good company to come up with customer-friendly systems and, right time and right cost. In the end, that’s how you make a decision as the CEO of the company, when you can get everything and you get the quality as well. Altogether it’s been the right choice, and I think we’re ahead of many other manufacturers today.
I think that arms race about the user experience in the car and the platforms you’re going to use, is maybe the most interesting piece of the car business, aside from electrification. I’m always curious how people are making those decisions. The next most interesting thing is, you mentioned ADAS, which is autonomy systems, advanced driver assistance systems. You’ve said that Jeep will have Level 2 autonomy this year. Some of the cars, you can already configure that way. The 2022 Grand Cherokee, you can click a button and say, “I want it,” but it doesn’t say how much it’s going to cost. Is that ready to go? Is that ready to ship? Are you still working on it? What’s the timeline for that to come out?
Well, we have what we call Level 2 autonomy, which is the all-road assist. It basically gives you all this autonomy, but it’s still not hands-free. We have it on Grand Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer. Next year, we’ll release the next generation, which is hands-free. And then, at a later stage, we’re working with BMW in a pretty significant partnership, where we’ll bring Level 3, which is eyes off. So, hands-on, eyes off the road, which is coming in the next few years. And then, we’re working, as you know, with Waymo on Level 4. That is without constraints in, potentially, an urban environment and mostly it has applications for delivery services within geo-fenced areas. So, yeah, we’re ahead of the game on this. I think we have very good solutions.
Safety is everything. We want to introduce systems which are easy to use. If you use the Grand Cherokee’s Level 2, it’s not geo-fenced and it’s not highway-only. You can use that wherever you are, on an avenue, you can use it anywhere. And it’s really very easy to use. The majority of other manufacturers pushed quickly to get something out and they released something which was highway-only. Instead, we didn’t rush because we wanted to have it available on all roads.
Another thing that we’ve worked on is the off-road autonomous drive, which we believe is the ultimate thing for a Jeep to be able to do. So, we’re working on this. Other features that you haven’t mentioned, which I think is really cool on Grand Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer, is night vision. Night vision is something that people imagine is something for a war game — for soldiers. But we have an application, which is really awesome. Looking at statistics, in Michigan alone, last year there were 55,000 accidents related to deer. Impact or no impact, but 55,000 accidents. And with night vision we have the opportunity to detect an animal from far away coming from left or right, and slow down and stop before it’s too late. So a lot of technology, which is pretty cool, that we believe is very appropriate for Jeep. A lot of things that we’ve somewhat explained very briefly in our EV Day video, that two-minute video, we’re working on.
I was going to ask you about EV Day, you showed a drone, you showed stargaze mode, where you’re lying flat and the car is driving itself. Is that on the roadmap or is that vision?
Some are visions and some are on the roadmap. And in my mind, we need to do them all. The solar charging station exists and we’re putting them right now in the US on trails. We want all of our 80 trails across the US, which are found in our Badge of Honor app, to have at least one. We’re putting one on the Rubicon Trail as we speak right now.
Biometric recognition is something we need and we are working on. Selectable tire pressure, what is better than your off-road to be able to take air on and off from your car? What is more cool than, when you have an electric Jeep, to put more power on one wheel versus another, right? You decide, “Okay, I want the power on the front left.” That works pretty well. The peer-to-peer charging is pretty obvious. When you’re off-road with friends and you run out of juice, your friend still has a little bit more, so you borrow some of it.
The drone, honestly, when you’re driving off-road, there is nothing cooler than having a complete 360 view of everything going on around you, right?
Wait, go through this list with me. The drone, is that on the roadmap, are there people at Jeep working on it right now?
I can’t tell you that, but obviously this is more than a thought and a vision, as you can imagine, otherwise we would not have shared this kind of story.
I cover tech companies. They say crazy things to me all the time. Biometric recognition, are people working on it?
Of course. Yeah, of course. We’re going to be able to open doors with a phone very soon. Some brands have done it, not so successfully yet, but there is a lot of technology that is going to make the off-road and the community life of a Jeep owner very cool. When you’re off-road, you don’t have cell phone coverage, but you want to chat with your peers and everything. There are a lot of technologies that we can use, right, with connectivity and GPS. So you think about the magnitude of all the connected services we can imagine, free or not so free, that we can offer to our customers going forward is unlimited.
So a lot of things are either completely in the pipeline, already decided, or we are currently studying. I would say the amphibious version is probably the one that still needs quite a lot of work to deliver on it. But the rest, I think the technology is not that far, we can do it. We can do it. It’s just a matter of resources and potential. And if the customers are saying it’s cool and we need to bring it, we’ll bring it.
The Jeep customers are the boss, right?
Yeah. It’s true. One of the things I noticed about that video is that it’s set in the far future. An amphibious Jeep with a drone is a great vision of the future. But the cars had steering wheels in them. So, make the same prediction about steering wheels in 2040, will most Jeeps have steering wheels in them?
That’s a good question. I think in 2030, they will have steering wheels. In 2040, I still think we’re going to need steering wheels because Jeep is not a transportation brand. We’re not there to transport from A to Z. We’re here to provide pleasure, emotion, driving pleasure, fun to drive. And the steering wheel, whether it’s completely round or square or different shape, or levers, is going to be very critical because the driver is going to be in charge. When he wants to delegate to the car, the car is going to be able to do as well, or maybe even better. But “fun to drive” is part of our DNA and it’s part of the authenticity of driving a Jeep. So yeah, we will have a steering wheel, whether it’s the same shape or a different shape, we will. Pretty sure.
You mentioned that FCA has worked with Waymo in the past. I just spoke to the co-CEO of Waymo, Tekedra Mawakana. Her vision is, once we get to Level 4, I take the steering wheel away and your experience inside the car radically changes. You can do something else inside the car. You can reclaim that time. Do you have that same vision, but there just happens to be a steering wheel in case you go off-road or is it a different kind of vision?
No, but I think we want to keep the pleasure to drive intact. We sell lifestyle machines and machines that people enjoy driving and have fun driving in. So, we’re not going to eliminate that. And if the customers at one point want to eliminate it, then there is no need to have a Jeep. If the car drives and does everything itself, I think you lose that emotional connection with your product, with your car, and we don’t want to do that. You know that we’re not going to build a car around a screen. A Jeep is first a Jeep and the technology is going to be an enabler.
Jeeps, when you look at the design of a Jeep from the Willys to now, there is functionality and authenticity in everything we do. The wheel arches, they’re not round wheel arches, they’re square, right? It’s because of efficiency off-road. The functionality is still going to remain a very important piece. We’re not going to build technology and then have a car around it. That’s not a Jeep. We’re still going to build a Jeep that people will enjoy driving, be proud of, and whenever they’re going to want to use that L4 technology, they can fall asleep. They can fall asleep. They can go for a ride with their Jeep, or they can go for a walk and the Jeep will find them at the bottom of the hill. That’s freedom. Freedom and authenticity are our core values for Jeep. Freedom, I think, the freedom that we’ve been missing so much in the last couple years with COVID, I think is a value that is going to be very, very important in the next few years. And I think we want to keep that.
And that ability for you to take charge of your own destiny, not leave it to the machine to do everything for you. I think that is core. Passion, authenticity, freedom are really core to the Jeep DNA and we’re going to keep it alive. And the community, right? The sense of community. You want to see people waving. I don’t know if you have a Wrangler, but you should. When you cross another Wrangler guy or girl, you just wave “Hi.” And there are many on the road, so sometimes it’s a little like, “Wow. I need to do that three times in half a mile.” But it’s part of it. It’s part of the experience. People love this. Yeah.
Well so, here’s my last question. I have a Grand Cherokee. I would love to trade it in for a 4xe.
That’s good. I’m proud of you.
What day can I trade it in for a 4xe?
Early next year for you.
January or March?
Very early in the year. So, in the first couple months of the year, 2022.
In the US.
And I’m taking this question directly from the forums, there’s no High Altitude trim — the blacked out, premium trim. When is that coming? I always ask car CEOs one question from the forums, so this is my question for you.
For the L or the short?
There will be High Altitude — the black versions?
Yeah, yeah. That exists. That’s coming.
That is coming, yeah. You will have the opportunity to buy that. Yes. I promise.
Alright. That’s the one I’m looking for, but this question is directly from the forums.
I promise it will come.
My goal with CEOs is to connect them to the people. So the forums are where I find people.
We’re very connected to what people want and we will release that trim because we know that’s very popular and a lot of customers want it, so we’ll do it.
Okay. Christian, thank you so much for coming on Decoder. This was great.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.