Chrysler’s new Cherokee more streamlined, more car-like

In automotive circles, the Cherokee name has a lot of history and brand  equity.

For almost 20 years, Cherokee carried a certain rugged, functional swagger  for Jeep, featuring a simple squarish design that grew old but never seemed  dated.

When it was time for a new model in 2002, Jeep put the Cherokee name in  storage, choosing to call its new Toledo-built vehicle the Liberty. Now as Jeep  launches its next-generation SUV, the company is dusting off — and redefining — the Cherokee for North America.

The new Cherokee is more streamlined, more car-like, and much more focused on  creature comforts and fuel economy. While it’s certainly not the Cherokee  of old, Chrysler Group LLC executives have offered assurances the vehicle  they’ll officially unveil Wednesday at the New York Auto Show is still very much  a Jeep, and one worthy of the Cherokee name.

David Placek, the president of Lexicon Branding in Sausalito, Calif., said  building that bridge is dependent on the story that Jeep tells.

“You have to ask yourself, what’s our message going forward here?” he said. “How do we link the future with the past of Cherokee and the image of what it  stands for. That is the ultimate frame of reference they have to think about. If  it’s just putting an old name on a new car, all they’re doing is driving into  the future looking through the rear view mirror.”

In that regard, Mr. Placek said the look and design of the vehicle matter  less than the values for which the vehicle stood.

“If they can take those and say we’re pulling those values forward, yes it’s  a different look, it’s different performance, it’s different materials, but  those underlying values, that heritage is still there,” he said.

Mr. Placek, whose firm helped name the Subaru Outback and Forester and  created the Scion brand for Toyota, isn’t particularly fond of reviving old  names for new cars, but said Cherokee has potential to work. Chrysler has reused  other names from its past in recently years; its Dodge brand has brought back  the Challenger, Charger, and Dart.

 

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