Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne drove the first new Jeep Grand Cherokee off the line at a ceremony on May 21, 2010, echoing Bob Lutz's famous roll-off 18 years earlier. This time, the breakthrough did not come via a glass wall. Rather, it was what the boss had to say.
Chrysler Group LLC’s Jeep Grand Cherokees for 1993 to 2004 are being investigated for possible fuel-tank defects after 55 fire-related deaths in crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Jason Ryska, the current plant manager at Jefferson North, keeps a baseball bat in his office to remind him of the first time he made contact with the Jeep Grand Cherokee under Fiat management. It was on stage in an amphitheater at Chrysler's design and engineering center in Auburn Hills, shortly after Fiat took control in 2009. Marchionne, the new chief executive officer, handed Louisville Sluggers to Ryska and a gang of Chrysler executives who had survived bankruptcy. He told them to start swinging at the Jeep that was once the pride of the fleet. This wasn't the hot new Grand Cherokee that Ryska builds now. It was the previous model that had been compromised and cost-cut until it was stripped of its dignity and reduced to an "also-ran," as designer Ralph Gilles said. Ryska grabbed the bat and began pounding. It was a corporate catharsis.
Like grunge rock and flannel, sport utility vehicles were one of the biggest fads of the 1990s. If you mumbled the lyrics to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” while piloting a Ford Explorer in 1994, you were the zeitgeist.
Last May, Matt Newman bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, the muscle-car version of Chrysler’s hot- selling SUV. He was hooked at 470 horsepower and paddle shifters, so when the salesman went for the close with a free day of driving at a race track, it was almost overkill.