In early 1963 the struggling Willys/Jeep company in the USA released the first luxury 4×4 on to the market.
They called it the Wagoneer and it created one of the automobile industry’s most profitable market segments which has grown exponentially across the world for the past 50 years.
The Wagoneer was different.
At a time when four wheel drives were agricultural in purpose and sales, here was one loaded with power steering, air conditioning, automatic transmission, power windows and lots of chrome.
The interior was car like. In fact, all the elements of the 21st century SUV can be found in the 1963 Wagoneer.
And the Range Rover was still seven years away.
Initial sales were strong in rural areas, but slowly city folk, with aspirations of getting away, in comfort, started to buy the car.
In early 1970 the American Motors Corporation (AMC) acquired Jeep and set about giving it an engineering, equipment and marketing overhaul.
It worked. Sales climbed and climbed. By 1980 they were selling almost 100,000 a year, most optioned to the hilt and at a price premium with no discounts, to urban customers.
Despite Jeep’s success AMC was going under and after a brief flirtation with Renault, Lee Iacocca, then Chairman of Chrysler saw an opportunity to put himself into the history books as a three time winner.
Wiley old Lee was a master at picking trends.
At Ford he’d birthed the Mustang and created the pony car era.
At Chrysler he foresaw the need for the minivan. It saved the company from bankruptcy and delivered a mode of transport to a generation of children and their parents.
Now he had one last revelation. What he saw were urbanised baby boomers who yearned for freedom once more.
He saw they wanted a “getaway “car: if not in reality, then certainly in the mind.
What he also saw was a profit of over $10,000 per unit. So he bought AMC — just for Jeep.
And the rest of the story you know.
Into showrooms came the Jeep Cherokee and its luxury sibling, the Grand Cherokee.