The Apple of the auto industry isn’t Tesla, it’s Jeep
Whenever Apple is going to have a new product for sale in its stores, the fanboys line up in such great numbers that it’s surprising Ticketmaster hasn’t figured out a way to capitalize on the multitude of anxious buyers with credit cards ready to go.
When Elon Musk talks about a new car being added to the lineup, there is an analogous group of people, and Musk has cleverly set up a model in which people place deposits for their place in line. The number of deposits (two per customer only, it should be noted) for the Model 3 is some 400,000.
Because Tesla is a Silicon Valley company that has a highly desirable, highly designed suite of products for which there is demand the likes of which is completely uncharacteristic for the category, it is often compared to Apple. After all, has anyone gotten into line to buy a Windows phone? Do you even remember the Zune?
So it must be that Tesla is like Apple. But there is one nontrivial problem with this comparison: Apple sells its products in mass quantity. Tesla, even though it just had its best quarter ever, delivering a record 25,418 vehicles – up 69 percent over the first quarter of 2016 – is still, when compared to the car industry in general, selling a specialized product.
No, the automotive brand most like Apple is Jeep. Just as with Apple’s quickly identified design language – either for the physical phones and computers or the interfaces for same – there is no mistaking a Jeep. Like Apple’s legion of fans, there are people for whom a Jeep is not merely a form of transportation, but a statement about one’s way of life. Like the companies that wish they could have designs that are Apple-like and do their utmost to have a similar objects or appearances (sometimes landing them in court, a la Samsung), is there a single automotive company that wouldn’t like to have some of Jeep’s magic?
While there aren’t people who are lined up outside of dealerships when a new Jeep goes on sale, there is probably more interest in the forthcoming Wrangler than in the accumulation of interest in a half-dozen other vehicles from other companies.
And like Apple, Jeep is a comparative volume play. Last year FCA US LLC delivered 926,376 Jeeps. Walter P. Chryslerand the Dodge Brothers must be spinning at high velocity in their graves, because the U.S. total for Chrysler brand was 231,972, and Dodge was 506,858. The sum of the two – 738,830 – is well shy of Jeep’s sales.
On a global basis, Jeep sold some 1.4 million units in 2016. It is looking to increase that number to about 2 million by 2020. Which means that there will be not only a line extension, such as putting a vehicle below the Renegade and one above the Grand Cherokee, but that Jeeps will be sold in greater numbers in places that aren’t the US.
Realize that, for example, while the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is being produced in four plants, none of them are in the US. Clearly there is a danger here for the Jeep faithful, a danger that Jeeps may become something targeted toward markets that aren’t the US, aren’t from where they originated.
What becomes of the “authenticity”? Because if there is any characteristic that defines Jeep, that’s it.
Turns out the answer to that question is simple: Nothing.
That’s the word from Mark Allen, the man who has been designing Jeeps (and trucks) for more than 20 years, the man who heads Jeep Design. In a recent interview, he told me that no matter where Jeeps are built, all of them are – and will be – designed in Auburn Hills by his team. Yes, there are modifications needed to make the vehicles street-legal for other countries – not exactly major things, generally, as he cites license-plate fixture points as an issue they face – but the Jeeps are going to be coming out of the primary Jeep studio.
It will soon be Easter. Allen and his team will be in Moab, Utah. They will be taking with them a suite of specially created Jeeps, vehicles they will be showing and demonstrating to the Jeep faithful who go there each year (this is the 51st) for the Easter Jeep Safari. Allen points out that these are capable concept vehicles – as in Jeeps that are capable of doing what Jeeps are supposed to do.
Sure, there are clubs for probably every vehicle on the planet. But chances are there is no more dedicated group of individuals around the planet than those who drive Jeeps.
That’s something that Tesla will never have. Nor will Samsung or Microsoft ever get the love of Apple.