An SUV dynasty is now one step closer to the end. After 49 years, the legendary mid-size 4×4, the Jeep Cherokee discontinued production on March 1st, 2023. Struggling with persistently low sales, Stellantis halted the Belvidere Assembly plant in Illinois where the unibody SUV is constructed. Stellantis and the United Auto Workers union are holding negotiations but it is unclear what the future holds.
The Jeep Cherokee’s 49-year legacy was an impressive run. The first Cherokee model dates back to 1974 which was originally marketed as a two-door Wagoneer and introduced to replace the Jeepster Commando. The “sporty” two-door variant, code named SJ, offered more room than the Cj-5 and could appeal to a younger market not requiring the girth of the full-size four-door Jeep Wagoneer.
In 1984, Jeep re-introduced the Cherokee nameplate on an all-new second-generation platform without the body-on-frame chassis. The lightweight unibody design would revolutionize the SUV standards, and the Jeep Cherokee XJ became an instant hit. So popular in fact, Jeep’s planned second-generation Cherokee replacement was released in 1993 as an additional Jeep SUV platform named the Jeep Grand Cherokee (ZJ). The XJ Cherokee stayed on until 2001 when its replacement arrived, but XJ remnants remained.
The Jeep Cherokee Had A Great Run, But Where Did It Go Afoul?
Jeep changed things up in 2002 with the third-generation KJ, and the 2008 fourth-generation KK. The vehicle lines and body shape stood out and perhaps not in a good way. This body style, unfortunately, may have turned off buyers and the models never really took off in sales. Meanwhile, the Jeep Grand Cherokee became the flagship SUV as soccer moms everywhere were buying them up by the millions.
Jeep Grand Cherokee’s average sales range better than 200,000 units a year for the last three decades. Jeep Cherokee on the other fell way short of that since the 2000s. Beginning in 2014, to gain some of the Grand Cherokee magic, the fifth-generation Cherokee KL became a scaled-down version, looks-wise, of the current Grand Cherokee model. Alas, the Cherokee model still struggled and there were only 40,322 units reported sold in 2022.
Jeep Cherokee Discontinued Because Of Crowded Marketplace?
The last Jeep Cherokee rolled off the line of the Belvidere Assembly Plant on February 28, 2023. Jeep’s current SUV lineup is crowded and I aim blame on this questionable strategy. I also rever other objections to modern SUV issues. At some point, Jeep decided it was acceptable to manufacture the Cherokee as a front-wheel-drive vehicle. With nine vehicles in the current Jeep portfolio, all of them being SUVs excluding the Gladiator, what do you do? Something has to be cut.
What will Stelantis move into the Cherokee’s place? What will the Belvidere Assembly plant regear for?
Jeep Cherokee Discontinued Because Of Price Point?
Pricing for the 2023 Cherokee starts at $34,895. The other low and mid-range counterparts, the Renegade and Compass sell for $24,695 and $27,285 respectively. That is a crowded window with few buyers. The 2023 Grand Cherokee can be had for $41,530 and the Grand Cherokee L for another two grand. Yes, they added another bigger and longer Grand Cherokee! And do not forget, Jeep recently introduced the new full-size luxury-laden Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.
Jeep Cherokee Discontinued Because Of Capability Or Lack Thereof?
Sadly, I believe Stellantis missed the mark with the recent Cherokee models. There is still room for a curvaceous full-bodied lightweight 4×4 different and separate from the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. But not if you are confused about who you are trying to sell to. Four-wheel-drive only! No 4×2 front-wheel drive nonsense. I am talking about a legit modern transfer case and 4×4 drive train with enough power to turn some 33-inch tires through the soft stuff. Build it and they will come. Look at the Toyota 4Runner and Ford Bronco, but not the Bronco Sport. I would not want to model anything off of that platform.
End Of An Era: After 49 Years Jeep Cherokee Discontinued
Our charming little Cherokee XJ was an off-road performer that won the hearts and minds of off-road enthusiasts worldwide. Some three million units were sold under the Cherokee nameplate. Today, the Jeep Cherokee XJ models are highly sought after. The cherished 4×4 offers a lightweight starter platform that works great as a weekend trail rig. After a few mods, they become reliable performers anyone could use a true adventure vehicle.
If you are like me, you might have owned an XJ at one point. In the 1990s, I bought a used 89 when I was in high school as my first ride and I am going to miss it. Perhaps I will miss it so much I will have to go find myself a sweet little XJ for old times’ sake.