Jeep is an iconic SUV brand with a storied history, as important to WWII soldiers as to modern-day off-roaders. It was originally developed by Willys-Overland in 1941 and is currently owned by the multinational automotive conglomerate Stellantis. Find out more about the brand here.
Jeep: Company History
In 1940, soon to be mired in World War II, the US Army solicited bids for a light reconnaissance vehicle, meant to replace the mule and the motorcycle for battlefield transport. Three companies responded—Bantam, Willys-Overland, and Ford. Although each company would contribute to the ultimate design of the first Jeep, Willys-Overland was eventually awarded the contract. The Toledo, Ohio, company produced a vehicle that was later described by General George C. Marshall as “America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.” There is some debate as to where the Jeep name came from: Some say it’s from a popular character of the Popeye cartoon series, Eugene the Jeep. Others say it is the phonetic combination of G and P, the government’s term for General Purpose vehicle. What isn’t up for debate is what the Jeep could do. That first model, the Willys MB, was a solid and versatile 4x4 with the ability to tackle nearly any terrain and task. It stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, fought in the deserts of North Africa, and traversed the mountains of Italy. It served as a troops and supplies transporter, a machine-gun mounted infantry vehicle, an ambulance, a tractor, a fire truck, a river-forder, and a snow-plow. All told, the US produced over 600,000 Jeeps towards the war effort. As World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle said, “It did everything. It went everywhere.”
After the war, Willys-Overland retained the Jeep trademark and shifted to civilian production, modifying the Willys MB into the Willys CJ-2A while also producing the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the 1947 Jeep Pickup. Jeep had a small but loyal civilian following while also maintaining production for military contracts.
Changes In Jeep Ownerships Over Time
After helping to secure US victory, Jeep changed hands many times during its postwar history, often as one of the most profitable brands of its struggling corporate parent. This bad luck has commonly been called “the Jeep Curse.” Willys-Overland was purchased for $62.3 million by Kaiser Motors in 1953, eventually becoming the Kaiser-Jeep International Corps. In 1970, Kaiser-Jeep was purchased by American Motors Corporation (AMC). Despite strong Jeep sales, AMC lost 78.3 million over a two-year period, prompting Renault, a French automaker, to purchase 25 percent of the company in 1979.
In an era of rapid corporate consolidations and acquisitions, Jeep was purchased again in 1987, when Chrysler Corporation acquired AMC for $1.5 billion. For the first time, Jeep was owned by one of the Big Three automakers. Jeep was the prize here (it had just introduced the iconic Jeep Wrangler) and was estimated to be worth $850 million. It would join Chrysler’s Dodge as one of Chrysler’s strongest brands and was the only AMC brand to continue after the merger.
Chrysler itself was then purchased by Daimler-Benz in 1998 for $36 billion, becoming DaimlerChrysler. Dubbed the “merger of equals” at the time, the marriage was short-lived. In 2007, DaimlerChrysler off-loaded most of Chrysler for just $7.5 billion to a private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, which renamed the company Chrysler LLC. The deal was made just in time for the financial crisis of 2008, when Detroit automakers were in free-fall. Like other US automakers, Chrysler LLC sought bankruptcy protection and was rescued by government bailouts.
Chrysler LLC emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with Fiat, an Italian automaker, as one of its principal owners (along with the US and Canadian governments). Fiat shared some of its tech and components, including its powertrain, and completed its merger with Chrysler in 2014 when the companies officially merged into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Jeep joined other Fiat car brands, most notably Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo. FCA also established the Ram brand of pickup and heavy-duty trucks, refocusing the Dodge brand on smaller cars. While FCA was based in Turin, Italy, the famous Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator were still manufactured in North America, maintaining production in Toledo, Ohio, the original home of Jeep in its Willys-Overland days.
The Present Day Ownership Situation Of Jeep
In January of 2021, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) merged with French automaker Peugeot S.A. (Group PSA) to become Stellantis. According to the company, Stellantis comes from the Latin verb “stello,” meaning “to brighten with stars.” The name is meant to evoke the powerful constellation of the individual brands coming together in the merger, Jeep being one of its brightest stars.
Although Stellantis began life as the 4th largest automaker worldwide with annual sales of approximately eight million vehicles and 400,000 employees, sluggish sales and downsizing during the pandemic have dropped it down to 6th place. Stellantis is a Franco-Italian-American venture with large operations in those countries, but it’s officially Dutch, incorporated in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It includes 14 popular car brands including Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati. It has industrial operations in nearly 30 countries and a commercial presence in more than 130 markets.
Where Is Jeep Made?
Mostly in America. Jeep has 10 plants in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, China, and India, but Jeeps are mostly made in America, and most of the assembly itself occurs here in the United States. The Wrangler, Compass, Cherokee, and Gladiator are all assembled in the US. The Jeep Renegade is assembled in Italy, along with the Fiat 500x.
According to the Cars.com American-Made Index for 2021, the Jeep Cherokee ranks number four in terms of cars manufactured by American workers in American factories, using American parts and components. The US Assembly Plant for the Jeep Cherokee is located in Belvidere, Illinois. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, manufactured in Detroit, Michigan, ranks number 16.
The Jeep Wrangler is manufactured at the Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio, where it has produced Wranglers for decades, not far from the original Willys-Overland factory. It is a 3.64 million square-foot complex on 312 acres that employs nearly 6,500 workers.
The new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L is produced at Stellantis’ Detroit Assembly Complex Mack Plant. The complex is Detroit’s first new vehicle assembly plant in decades.
What Vehicles Does Jeep Produce?
Jeep produces the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, the Grand Cherokee L, the Wrangler, the Wrangler 4xe, the Compass, the Renegade, and the Gladiator. Jeep is also expanding into three-row SUV segments with the luxurious Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, coming in the summer of 2021.
The Jeep Wrangler is the iconic Jeep: a high-tech off-roader with a vast range of trims, options, and accessories to suit any driver. The Jeep Renegade is a subcompact SUV with off-road ability, and the Jeep Compass is one of the best small crossover off-roaders. The Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee are midsize SUVs, with the Grand Cherokee offering a stylish, upscale interior. The Jeep Gladiator combines the Wrangler style with truck capability—plus, it’s the only pickup truck with a removable top on the market. The Wagoneer is a luxurious family-oriented SUV, expected to be offered with a V-6 engine, plug-in hybrid, or supercharged V-8 engine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does China own Jeep?
No. There was some buzz back in 2017 that China’s leading SUV manufacturer, Great Wall Motor Co, was plotting to purchase the Jeep brand from FCA. While there were several reports that Great Wall Motor Co intended to make an offer, that offer never came. Jeep, as part of FCA, merged with French PSA Group to become Stellantis, which is officially incorporated in the Netherlands.
Are Jeep and Dodge the same company?
Jeep and Dodge are different brands owned by the same company, Stellantis. Before FCA merged with PSA Group to form Stellantis, Jeep and Dodge were both owned by FCA.
When did Fiat buy Jeep?
Fiat completed the acquisition of Chrysler (which owned the Jeep brand) on January 21, 2014. It first purchased a stake in Chrysler in 2009, after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Fiat made a deal for minority ownership and corporate control of the company. It completed the purchase years later after buying out stakes held by the US and Canadian Governments as well as the United Auto Workers pension fund, becoming Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles.
Is Jeep still an American company?
Although it’s an iconic American brand, Jeep is actually owned by the global automotive conglomerate Stellantis, which is officially Dutch, incorporated in the Netherlands. Jeeps, however, are still mostly made and assembled in the United States, using mostly American parts and components. The Jeep Wrangler continues to be made in Toledo, Ohio, the original home of Jeep in the 1940s during its Willys-Overland days. So while Jeep is no longer American-owned, it is still a quintessentially American brand. It can still do anything and go anywhere.