DETROIT – Off-roaders seeking to rev up the four-wheel drive of a Jeep might soon find out that their American icon is made in Italy.
In a sign of what comes with the takeover of Chrysler by Italian giant Fiat (IW 1000/27), U.S. auto dealers have begun selling the Italian-made Jeep Renegade.
The new Renegade, a small 4x4 SUV, was shipped to dealers last week, according to Todd Goyer, U.S. spokesman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). The Renegade will hit showrooms nationwide in volume next month, with prices starting at around $20,000.
Jeep traces its roots back to 1940 when the U.S. Army asked carmakers to design a utility vehicle that could be used for scouting and which could move quickly.
Willys came up with the best design and the "jeep" -- possibly a made-up word for "G.P." or "general purpose" -- became the workhorse of the U.S. forces in World War II. It remained in production until 1982 and was used by armies all over the world until it was finally replaced.
For the motoring public the jeep morphed into off-road-capable commercial cars like the CJ-5 and pioneering sports utility vehicles like the Wagoneer and Cherokee.
Jeep, which was taken over by American Motors in 1970 and then came under the control of Chrysler in 1987, has since then benefited greatly from the overwhelming popularity of SUVs in the U.S. market since the 1990s.
It is now a key element of Fiat Chrysler Automobile's plans to expand globally, and the Renegade is tapping one of the hottest market segments, small SUVs.
The Renegade was designed and engineered at FCA U.S. in Auburn Hills, Michigan, but is being built in a refurbished assembly plant in southern Italy.
It shares a platform with other Fiat cars like the 500X and 500L and the Alfa Romeo MiTo.
It will also be built in Brazil with components from Italy and the U.S., for local and export markets.
Art Anderson, FCA U.S. chief engineer, said the Renegade was designed to deliver the Jeep brand's traditional capability in a relatively small package that is bolstered by the latest electronics, which are used in the driveline.
The Renegade is capable of switching automatically from four-wheel to two-wheel drive, and offers optional driver's-assistance features such as a backup camera.
The Renegade is expected to augment U.S. sales without cutting into those of the Jeep Compass, Patriot and Wrangler, all of which have benefited from a revival of. Jeep sales since the end of the recession in 2009.
Overall Jeep sales were up 20% in the first two months of 2015 compared with a year earlier, despite criticism of its quality by one of Americans' favorite car-buying guides, Consumer Reports.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015