Doug DeMuro, September 2015
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Letters to Doug, your weekly Jalopnik column where you write me letters and I attempt to respond in the only way I know how: an obscene amount of lies and deception.
Anyway: today’s letter comes to us from an actual doctor who works at an actual laboratory at an actual university in Texas. However, I do not want to violate his privacy, so I will not reveal that his name is Steve. Instead, I will call him Todd. Todd writes:
In recent years, it seems that Jeep Wrangler competitors just kinda stopped (with this being the last year of the Xterra). Is there any competition left for the Wrangler or, better yet, were the Xterra and FJ Cruiser ever really a competitor? I mean, if you can’t take the top and doors off, aren’t you admitting (as a manufacturer) that you don’t even plan to compete?
Thanks for your expert input,
Before I get started with this one, I want to say that I got a wide range of really good letters this week, and it was really hard to choose one for publication. There was even a guy who wrote in and said he once owned a Volkswagen Touareg, and it burned to the ground. This letter did not include a question, though I have several questions for him, such as: Why did you buy a Volkswagen Touareg? andDid you always have a fire extinguisher on hand?
But Todd’s letter is undoubtedly the best, because it asks a question that many people have wondered about over the years: why doesn’t the Jeep Wrangler have any competition? Why wouldn’t another automaker try to capitalize on the success of the popular, well-loved, highly acclaimed Jeep Wrangler? It’s a good question. And fortunately, I am the perfect person to answer it, as I once drove a Jeep Wrangler in the manner it was intended to be used: on a race track slalom course.
To start, I want to say that many automakers have tried, over the years, to create Jeep Wrangler competitors. I can think of several. Sure, we remember the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra. But how about that time Kia made a two-door open-roof version of the Sportage? Or when Toyota made a two-door RAV4 convertible? Or the two-door Geo Tracker? Or the Isuzu Amigo? Or all those Suzukis that tried to find success in the American market and died like a guy who pissed off Tony Soprano?
So it’s not like nobody has tried to create a Jeep Wrangler competitor. But in the end, they’ve all failed for two simple reasons: number one, you can’t topple the king. And number two, nobody really cares about this as much as Jeep does. We’ll take each reason individually.
REASON ONE: You can’t topple the king.
Let’s say Ford came out with a Jeep Wrangler competitor tomorrow, and let’s say they called it the Ford Cowboy. And let’s also say that it offered all the same stuff as the Jeep Wrangler, including amazing off-road capabilities, and a 2- or 4-door body style, and modern technology, and a roof that feels like it’s going to fly away like a family pet in a tornado when you’re going more than 70 miles per hour.
Do you think Wrangler enthusiasts would embrace this car? Hell no. They would embrace it about as well as BMW enthusiasts have embraced the Cadillac ATS, which is to say they don’t even notice it because they’re too busy sending text messages as they drive down the interstate.
So in order for Ford to topple the Wrangler, which has an entrenched name and tons of brand loyalty, they would have to devote years of marketing, and tons of effort, and lots of work just to get where the Wrangler already is right now. And this would further be nonsensical because…
REASON TWO: Nobody really cares about this as much as Jeep does.
Let’s say you’re Toyota and the FJ Cruiser is getting older. You have two choices: you could let it die, which would cost nothing, and would alienate people who will probably end up buying a 4Runner anyway. Or you could spend millions of dollars and devote years of market research and engineering effort and dozens of employees to give it a costly redesign and grab, what, maybe 20,000 extra sales?
If you’re Toyota, the choice is easy: you sell 40 zillion cars annually. You do not need the headache that goes along with a unique marketing strategy for a vehicle like the FJ Cruiser, especially when you’re only going to sell it to a small number of people. When Toyota cancelled the FJ Cruiser, the lost sales were merely a blip on the Giant Toyota Radar Screen, sort of like when an elephant steps on a Micro Machine.
But to Jeep, the Wrangler is all they’ve got. I mean, yeah, sure they have the Cherokee, and the Grand Cherokee, and a couple of compact crossovers with interiors made out of stuff that Target wouldn’t put on the shelves. But the Wrangler is the car everyone knows Jeep for. Ditching the Wrangler wouldn’t be a blip to Jeep. It would be a loss of the brand’s identity. So unlike Toyota, Jeep is willing to devote the money and the time and the marketing and the employees to redesigning the Wrangler and keeping it fresh.
Whereas Nissan looks at the Xterra, and they look at the market, and they say to themselves: number one, we know we’ll never be better than the Wrangler in the eyes of the consumer. And number two, we won’t really miss the sales.
And this is why Xterra and FJ Cruiser fans are currently driving around in orphaned vehicles, while Wrangler fans are driving around in a car that will remain popular forever. Let’s hope they remembered to latch the roof.