Jeep is on a road to redemption in Australia, and is not shying away from its problems.
Jeep has again vowed to reverse its five-year sales slide and win back customer trust after the coronavirus delayed its recovery plans.
After a record 33,700 sales in 2015, Jeep’s annual tally dropped to just 5500 last year – and so far 2020 is not looking much better.
In fact, Jeep sold more cars in one month – in December 2014 – than it has sold in the first seven months of 2020.
Jeep’s Grand Cherokee even did the unthinkable six years ago, outselling the iconic Toyota LandCruiser Prado for a full year.
However, the brand that goes back to the very beginning of four-wheel drive history is still struggling to claw its way up the sales charts – even though sales of SUVs and four-wheel-drives are booming.
Jeep’s sales success five years ago was also accompanied by reports of poor quality control, numerous recalls, and dwindling customer satisfaction.
The weakening Australian dollar also since pushed prices higher.
With the brand on the nose with Australian consumers, Jeep has decided to tackle the issues head-on with a new advertising campaign.
The new campaign reboots the old ‘I bought a Jeep’ series, but takes a more serious and angle to acknowledge things haven’t always been paradise Down Under.
The advertisements bluntly acknowledge the brand’s recent shortcomings, stating “owning a Jeep wasn’t as enjoyable as driving one” and “when I needed help with it, it felt like nobody was listening”.
Along with a new campaign and plenty of fresh metal in the lineup (Wrangler, Gladiator and Compass), Jeep Australia also has a new boss in the big chair.
Kevin Flynn comes to Australia after five years as the boss of Jeep in India, where he saw the new Compass through from development to showroom floor.
Built in a new manufacturing plant in Pune India, it has proved to be a huge success for Jeep on the subcontinent. Now, Flynn is here to do similar things for the brand in Australia.
“(Australia) might be an easier country to live in, but the commercial challenges have been colossal,” said Mr Flynn during a recent interview.
“The turn-arounds are what I enjoy. Really doing the analysis and deep dive, find out where the issues are and then face them up and turning them. We had to put a plan together before the end of last year, and go to global (headquarters) with that plan. We did that, we got full support in what we’re doing and they’re fully backing (us) up.”
A big part of the recovery plan is rebuilding trust with Australian buyers.
“I think the sort of steps we took to be honest with the market and say: look, you know, we grew too quick and didn’t put the infrastructure in behind us to really take care of people in the way that we can now. And the way that we should have. I think was brave, but necessary,” said Mr Flynn.
He acknowledges the importance of addressing the problems this controversial campaign is unearthing.
“Of course we knew it was going to flush out all of those that were left unhappy, and with picking all of those up and we’re dealing with every single one of them. It’s a bit of a work load, but we have to do it. We have to heal some of these wounds,” said Mr Flynn.
As for current and future customers, Mr Flynn says he wants to improve the brand experience after driving off the showroom floor – and is not solely focused on sales numbers.
“We’ve really bolstered our technical side of the business. We’ve changed all the processes and the flows on how we deal with customers internally that have got an issue or need some kind of help,” said Mr Flynn.
“(Jeep’s customer service is) a lot slicker, and it’s a lot more customer centric than I think it probably has ever been before,” he says.
Jeep has also made efforts to reduce the cost of 17,000 parts in its inventory, and has rolled out a capped-price servicing program.
Despite the complications of COVID-19, Jeep’s team of regionally-based ‘flying doctors’ is still operating around Australia, helping solve customer issues. Although, Tasmania’s travel restrictions did cause some complications for a short time.
“The reasons for not considering (the Jeep brand), we’re doing our best to change those,” he says. “But not just in noise and messaging, actually in reality. We’ve changed the company; significantly changed the company.”