Jeep spent $1.6bn on the longer term dwelling of its new hybrid SUV – and invited me inside

Often, seeing the underside of a brand new automotive on a launch occasion is an indication that one thing went terribly incorrect. Even earlier than I’d touched the wheel of the brand new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L, although, I’d seen it stripped again to reveal steel. The automaker is aware of that perceived high quality is essential to nudging the primary three-row Grand Cherokee upmarket, and that concerned a tour of the place they construct it – and a preview of what’s to return.

It’s all occurring at Detroit Meeting Complicated Mack, a 3 million sq. foot manufacturing unit within the coronary heart of Detroit. Generally called Mack, up till lower than two years in the past it was the house of FCA’s Pentastar engine household. Now, $1.6 billion later, it’s one thing much more particular.

The Mack website has been used for manufacturing for greater than a century, however this renovation for the Jeep Grand Cherokee household makes it the primary new meeting plant in Detroit for 3 many years. The result’s a trio of buildings – the physique store, the paint store, and common meeting – the place the brand new SUV is pieced collectively, laser welded, painted and polished, after which united with its engine, drivetrain, cabin tech, and every part else, earlier than being run by way of a battery of checks.

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Jeep – now a part of Stellantis – is clearly happy with the reborn Mack. Manufacturing facility excursions aren’t atypical, however seeing a working manufacturing line for a automotive but to reach at dealerships continues to be comparatively uncommon. Then once more, the Grand Cherokee L is fairly uncommon, too.

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It’s the automaker’s first three-row model, an overdue growth you would say given virtually three-quarters of gross sales in its section at the moment are of 6- or 7-seaters. The Grand Cherokee has been good to Jeep over time; even the outgoing era stays the corporate’s best-selling mannequin. Downside is, the section is altering, and so is Jeep itself.

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The brand new 2021 Grand Cherokee L is step one in that course of. Longer than the present mannequin, to accommodate that all-important third row of seats, it’ll be adopted by a two-row Grand Cherokee that’ll even be constructed at Mack. That’ll come later within the yr.

What’s actually intriguing, although, is the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe. That’ll be a two-row plug-in hybrid, borrowing the brand new PHEV badge that Jeep used already on the Wrangler 4xe. As with that smaller SUV, it’ll have a gasoline engine mixed with a battery and electrical drive.

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Jeep isn’t spilling particulars on the precise configuration – the Grand Cherokee L will supply a selection of three.6-liter V6 or 5.7-liter V8, whereas the Wrangler 4xe pairs a 2.0-liter turbo-4 with electrical motors – however expectations are quietly excessive for its reception. Launched only some months again, the Wrangler 4xe has been a success for Jeep (helped, undoubtedly, by some significantly juicy lease offers) and, equally importantly, hasn’t diluted the corporate’s fame for “go anyplace” expertise.

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Automotive factories run a lot slower than I think most individuals think about them. The imaginative and prescient is all the time one in every of swirling, twirling robotic arms punctuated with prospers of sparks, and sure, Mack isn’t quick on its mechanized helpers. There are a whole lot of robots on the manufacturing line, helping with every part from assembling and laser-measuring the SUV’s shell, to portray it, to serving to load within the wiring harnesses and different elements.

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Their actions are jerky, although, and punctuated with pauses. Mack’s measured trundle takes round 36 hours per automotive, and what’s essential isn’t a lot the machines serving to with the workload however the work they’re truly doing. There’s an uptick in glue and insulation, a stiffer physique, and a much more advanced electrical structure, all within the identify of creating the brand new Grand Cherokee extra refined, extra rewarding on the street, and capable of compete in an age the place know-how and energetic driver help methods are as essential as horsepower and tow rankings.

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Briefly, Jeep is leaving nothing to probability. There may be, after all, solely a lot a guided tour of a manufacturing unit can present you. It’s straightforward to get mesmerized by the ballet of the robots, or the multi-million sq. footage of the manufacturing line ground, or certainly the tracks of half-assembled automobiles snaking their manner round and even over the ability.

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If there’s just one takeaway, then, perhaps it’s this. Jeep is placing its greatest foot ahead with the brand new Grand Cherokee L, betting greater than a billion {dollars} in manufacturing unit renovation on it staying the corporate’s most essential mannequin, and making electrification a centerpiece of the SUV’s story. The stakes are excessive, then, however with gross sales within the class hovering, so are the potential rewards.

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