(Bloomberg) -- While American-branded cars have historically struggled in Japan, Jeep, the rugged-looking sports utility vehicle, looks to be gaining popularity, particularly among younger buyers.
Jeep sales in the Asian nation are expected to increase 5% this year to more than 15,000 units, Hitoshi Ushikubo, the head of sales at Fiat Chrysler Japan, said in an interview Monday. Fiat Chrysler Japan is yet to be officially merged with the Japan office of Peugeot SA and come under the new Stellantis NV umbrella.
Shoppers in Japan have typically opted for smaller cars with high fuel efficiency, one reason why Ford Motor Co. ended up quitting the country in 2016. But Jeep has managed to retain a loyal customer base. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, more young people are taking an interest in the cars, drawn by their ability to handle all sorts of outdoor terrain, which helps with avoiding public transport.
“We’ve made efforts to fit with the Japanese market” by rolling out cars with right-hand drive, unlike General Motors and Ford, Ushikubo said. “Young people are looking for cars that allow them to present a part of their character,” he said, adding that a strong social media presence has also helped the brand.
Jeep sold 1,925 cars in March, 36% higher than the same month of 2020, which was impacted by Covid-19, with Wrangler and Renegade marques most popular, according to a statement Tuesday. Jeep ranked third last year among imported SUV brands in Japan, selling 13,588 units.
Tsubasa Imai, who bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee a few months ago, is one satisfied customer. “I like outdoor activities and I was looking for a car that has high horsepower and can carry a lot of baggage,” the 24-year-old said. There also aren’t too many cars in Japan that can tow a boat as well as look cool, he said.
Fiat Chrysler Japan expects to introduce new models for the Grand Cherokee, Compass and Gladiator this year. Keeping to that schedule may however depend on the availability of chips, Ushikubo said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.