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.