No. 997
May 22, 2019
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Monday
Apr082019

GLADIATOR GOLD.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Unless you’ve just recently emerged from a cave, you’re probably aware that Jeep has a new pickup called the Gladiator hitting the market right about now. When we first saw it at the Detroit Auto Show a few months ago, we agreed that it had “hit” written all over it, but even we weren’t prepared for the clamor over this new truck.

I could take you through all of the strategic blah-blah-blah surrounding the new Gladiator if it would help to make more sense. Like the fact that Jeep Wrangler buyers now have a place to go in the Jeep lineup instead of wandering off to another brand when they need more room, or the fact that FCA marketers have shrewdly aimed the Gladiator at the heart of the mid-size pickup truck segment, which continues to grow. Or even the fact that FCA now has a more affordable truck alternative to the big-grossing Ram pickups, although that is proving to be an instant myth (more on this later). 

Yes, all of that may be true and explains why the new Jeep Gladiator exists, but I will offer up a simple explanation as to why the frenzy over it seems to be growing by the day: It takes the fundamental design essence of the Jeep and turns it up to “eleven.” It’s beefier, ballsier and much more aggressive. And even though it’s noticeably longer than the Wrangler, it just might be the most Jeep looking of them all. In terms of its sheer on-road presence, the Jeep Gladiator is smokin’ hot.

We’ve been seeing Gladiators roaming the streets and byways around here for quite some time now, first in the ubiquitous camouflage and in other various guises and levels of finish, but now the finished trucks are out and their presence is unmistakable. Just the other morning I saw an FCA executive in a brand-new black, fully loaded Rubicon with manufacturer plates rumbling up Woodward Ave., and I couldn’t believe the people in their cars and trucks maneuvering in and around it in order to get closer for a look. And this is in a jaded car company town that’s used to seeing just about everything when it comes to the latest automotive stuff. 

The PR minions at FCA out in Auburn Hills have to be absolutely thrilled over the full-on media frenzy that has been generated by the Gladiator. Not that the carpal-tunnel wretches aren’t malleable or anything, but still, the press coverage of the Gladiator has been staggering. The reports about the Gladiator have been gushing with nonstop praise for two weeks now, and it doesn’t seem to be easing in the least. 

But the Gladiator frenzy doesn’t stop with the production truck. FCA has followed up with six new custom-built concept Gladiators for its annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari (see below), proving that the Gladiator will be a gold mine in terms of personal customization options. 

Alas, the Jeep Gladiator isn’t perfect. FCA marketers appear to be getting greedy with the Jeep franchise, which has been earning huge profits for the company for years now. And it seems that with the Gladiator they decided that there would be even more profits to be gleaned from consumers, with the marketing formula being Jeep + Pickup = $$$$$.

Yes, you can get a new Gladiator for a base price starting in the $35,000 range, but that’s a vehicle that has very little of the good stuff. (I know FCA marketers will vehemently disagree with this, but go to the Jeep website and see for yourself. You’ll need an Overland to even get started with the good stuff, and that starts at more than $40,000.) From there, the options are pricey and add up quickly. Automatic transmission? $2,000. Premium Lighting Group? $995. Premium Audio Group? $1595. Active Safety Group? $995. Cold Weather Group? $695. Body-Color 3-Piece Hardtop? $2,295. And it goes on from there. The Overland I priced was $54,650. A full-zoot Rubicon pushed $60,000.

Not that there is anything wrong with making a profit, I should point out. Porsche has gouged its faithful for years with its exorbitant option pricing, and the industry has paid close heed to that specific albeit greedy example. FCA marketers are making the proverbial hay while the sun shines with the Gladiator, and they are pushing every advantage toward that direction. As they should. But… and there’s always a but. 

A couple of months ago, I wrote a column entitled, “Affordability: The Next Frontier.” In it, I pointed out that the signs are off on the not-too-distant horizon that affordability is going to be the key for this industry going forward. Trucks and SUVs are being priced by their manufacturers into the stratosphere. $70,000+ circus wagon pickups and $100,000+ luxury SUVs are common now, but that pricing model simply isn’t sustainable. Affordability is gaining more importance by the day because consumers are simply being priced out of the market. 

I applaud the denizens of Auburn Hills for the executional brilliance of the Jeep Gladiator; they’re going to print money with it, at least for a while. But FCA marketers better be thinking about up-contenting a cheaper Gladiator model without raising the price, because as people who have been around this business long enough have come to understand, nothing – especially the golden good times – lasts forever.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

(Jeep images)

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Launch Edition sold out in one day.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Launch Edition.

The Jeep Gladiator Gravity Concept.

The Jeep Five-Quarter “Resto-Mod” 1968 Jeep M-715 Gladiator-based military vehicle concept.