Jeep May Be Diluting Its Rugged Image, Auto Analyst Says

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Tom Libby, an auto analyst for J.D. Power and Associates, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that Jeep may be diluting its image with too many “cross-over”models, or SUVs based on cars.

“I think long-term there is an issue about whether they’re helping or hurting the brand,” Libby said Thursday. “These new products are car-based. Frankly, the Compass does not look a ‘Jeepish’ – it does not have the masculine, assertive, aggressive look of traditional Jeeps. Long-term, I think there’s the possibility they’ll dilute the image of being a tough, off-road SUV.”

He said the Commander has eaten into the Grand Cherokee’s market, forcing Jeep to end production of the Commander. The Compass and Patriot are car-based models and don’t exude the traditional Jeep toughness.

“But their (market) share is actually up and that’s a key measure in this industry,” Libby said.

“The Jeep brand is probably the best brand (DaimlerChrysler) has," he said. "What I’m talking about is the core values, the brand long-term. When you think of Jeep, what do you think of? Fifteen or 20 years from now, because they’ve had these models on the road that are questionable in terms of their image as a Jeep, will the brand still have the same core values and will you think of it in the same way?”

He said GM’s Hummer presents a clear image and is a “potential challenge” to Jeep.

Libby said the Grand Cherokee-Commander and Compass-Patriot are built on the same platform, allowing them to be built on the same production lines, a major step in cutting production costs and retaining manufacturing flexibility.

“Jeep is a powerful brand,” Libby said. “I don’t think they want to lose that.”