Jeep gear is so popular in China that there are more than 1,500 licensed clothing outlets in the country, where only 120 auto dealers sell the brand. While Jeep has a strong image connected to an adventurous lifestyle, three decades of changing ownership have left it without local production and missing out on surging demand for SUVs in the world’s largest vehicle market.
“Our brand awareness and consideration is running way ahead of where our actual volumes are,” Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand, said in an interview in Beijing last month. “That’s why I can’t say strongly or often enough just what an opportunity China offers for us.”
Jeep sales rose 63 percent last year to 19,013 -- less than three days worth of China sales for General Motors Co. (GM), the top foreign automaker in the market. Detroit-based GM has 2,900 dealers -- more than 24 times the Jeep number -- that sold 2.55 million vehicles last year, mostly Buick, Chevrolet and Wuling models.
Manley, who oversees Asian business for Jeep owner Chrysler Group LLC, said he wants to increase the brand’s sales in China by expanding Chrysler’s dealer network by as much as 29 percent this year and restarting local production by early 2014.
While Ford Motor Co. (F), a late entry to China, is working just to build awareness of its brand and products, Jeep struggles to meet runaway demand.