Who Buys The Jeep Brand And Why?

Pamela DanzigerNovember 2, 20228 min

The recently passed Infrastruture and Inflation Reduction Acts include sweeping provisions to reduce emissions from gas-powered vehicles and advance the adoption of electric cars. And more recently National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has revised its fuel-efficiency standards upward to an average of 49 miles per gallon for new cars by 2026.

Increasing the production and sales of electric vehicles is critical to the plan. The Biden Administration aims for electric vehicles to account for 50 percent share of sales by 2030 and has incentivized EV purchases by offering up to a  $7,500 tax credit that can be applied at the point of purchase.

Currently, EVs have a long way to go. As of third quarter 2022, some 5.5 percent of vehicles sold were fully electrically powered. Nonetheless, the vision is clear: “Paving the way toward an all-electric, zero-emissions transportation future,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

While the powers-that-be are determined to break American’s addiction to gas-powered vehicles, Americans are equally determine to cling to them and the bigger, the better. Pickup trucks’ share of the market rose nearly 2 percentage points from June 2021 to June 2022, reaching 19.3 percent. The more suburban, family-friendly and less red-neck SUV models and their slightly modified Crossover SUV sibling now account for 55.4 percent of the car market, according to Statista.

The amazing growth and popularity of the SUV is credited to one brand: Jeep, which was first introduced in 1945 and is now owned by the Amsterdam-based Stellantis, which also owns Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Citroën, Dodge, Fiat, Maserati, Opel, Peugeot, Ram, among others. According to GoodCarBadCar research, Stellantis is the U.S. fourth most popular car company after General Motors, Toyota and Ford.

Automotive expert, blogger and all-around car enthusiast Ernest Martynyuk unpacked 15 reasons why the Jeep Wrangler is so popular. Among the reasons are its iconic style that’s stood the test of time – “If Marty McFly took a Jeep instead of a DeLorean, people might not even suspect him to be a time traveler.” It’s affordable and it holds its resale value compared with other SUVs. It also is rugged, great for off roading, and a whole lot of fun to drive with removable doors and top.

More esoteric but no less compelling is that once you own a Jeep Wrangler, you become part of the Wrangler community with its members acknowledging the family connection when they meet on the road with the Wrangler Wave.

Most of all, the Jeep is an American icon. “Jeep just has ‘America’ plastered all over its history,” Martynyuk wrote, adding that the U.S. outsells the European market hands down.

To Understand Jeep, Understand Its Customers

Personal opinion aside, Strategic Business Insights (SBI) took a scientific approach to understand the appeal of the Jeep brand, looking across not just the Wrangler but its expanded range of SUV models. It used its exclusive VALS survey that segments the adult U.S. consumer market into eight distinct types—or mindsets—that identifies a specific set of psychological traits and key demographics that drive consumer behavior.

As important as demographics are to marketers, SBI puts extra weight on the motivational factor and psychological makeup of individuals to help predict their purchase preferences. SBI writes, “A person’s tendency to consume goods and services extends beyond age, income, and education. Energy, self-confidence, intellectualism, novelty seeking, innovativeness, impulsiveness, leadership, and vanity play a critical role.”

Case Study Of Jeep’s Family Of Brands

Unlike Mercedes or GM which are much broader-based companies with a wider range of brands, all Jeep brands share a common DNA: authenticity. Jeep is the car that won World War II, or at the very least ferried the generals and officers who won that war. It’s been on every battle field since and had a starring role in movies, including Jurassic Park as well as all war movies, and television series that drove it full speed ahead into the popular culture.

Jeep is as American as apple pie. It is reliable, resilient, dependable, hardy as well as “hearty.” It gets the job done and lasts and lasts. Jeep is a brand that proudly waves that flag.

All the models in the Jeep portfolio share that common DNA:

  • Jeep Cherokee – Starting at $35,000 – SUV
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee – $41,000 – Luxury SUV
  • Jeep Compass – $27,000 – Crossover SUV
  • Jeep Renegade – $25,000 – Crossover SUV
  • Jeep Wrangler – 31,000 – Classic and most popular
  • Jeep Wrangler Unlimited – $54,000 – Luxury Classic, and now offered as Wrangler 4xe

U.S. sales of Jeeps peaked in 2018 with nearly one million sold and leveled off in 2019 with over 900,000 models sold. 2020 and 2021 were off years for Jeep, just like they were in the U.S. car market when sales dropped from 17 million new vehicles sold in 2019 to about 15 million in both years.

Still Jeep sold nearly 800,000 cars in 2020 and 2021 and with all the older models still running, Jeep has a firm hold among U.S. car drives.

Who Is Buying All Those Jeeps?

When it comes to car buying in general, and Jeep brands in particular, SBI’s senior consultant Pat Breman said you only need to look to three VALS’ types, which also report the highest level of Jeep ownership.

Jeep Owners Brand Research.jpg

”When it comes to vehicles, it is down to the point where only three groups out of the VALS eight that are buying anything: Thinkers, Achievers and Innovators. What they are buying is different, but they are are about the only ones that can afford anything these days. Experiencers and Strivers have more interest than money at this point in their lives.”

In addition, while Believers may own a Jeep, because of limited resources, they are more likely to own an older model and not be in the running to buy a new car.

What they all share – Thinkers, Achievers and Innovators – is average income over $100,000. These are consumers called the HENRYs (High-Earners-Not-Rich-Yet) with incomes ahead of 70 percent of all American households but beneath the top 10 percent ultra-affluents.

Experiencers, on the other hand, may report high household income, but because of their age, they are more likely to be reporting the HHI of their parent’s not themselves. “Many Experiencers are still living in their parent’s basement,” Breman shares.

For all, Jeep’s appeal is they aren’t a run-of-the-mill or cookie-cutter SUV. Jeeps have a distinctive look.

“It is not their parent’s SUV. Some people want to be distinctive and don’t have a lot of options to do so, especially if they are constrained by money,” Breman said, and added, “These cars are very distinctive without being weird. Jeep isn’t weird looking. It is authentic. “

Thinkers Want Reliability

Of all the VALS types, Thinkers have the highest level of Jeep ownership. Thinkers are attracted to brands like Jeep that are safe and conservative, practical and durable and responsible.

“They run all the numbers. They do all the research. They can tell you more about a vehicle than the sales person on the floor at the dealership,” Breman explains. “They may not be buying the Wrangler, and may gravitate toward more expensive Cherokee models—think Wrangler for mature adults. The history of the brand is attractive to Thinkers. Jeep’s decades-long track record proves the brand’s durability and reliability. ”

What is interesting in the data, however, is that there is a gap between Thinker ownership (26%) and Thinker willingness to buy a Jeep (12%). Given their propensity to delve into the data before making a purchase, Thinkers may be finding the newer Jeep models aren’t measuring up or that other brands, such as Subaru, fill the safety and reliability niche better.

This has implications for how Jeep is presenting itself to the Thinker audience. For Thinkers, marketing that focuses on quality, reliability and longevity is called for, rather than marketing with a lifestyle focus.

Achievers Want To Show

“Achievers have a ‘me-first, my family-first’ attitude.” Breman says. These consumers are likely to have children, and will look to Jeep Grand Cherokee model to do the hauling. On the other hand, they might buy a Wrangler as their teenager’s car.

“Typically, Achievers see money as defining success. So they might own a luxury car and a Jeep as well, because Jeep isn’t necessarily a ‘prestige’ brand. But it has badge value that communicates a strong message about who they are: hard working, like their Jeep,” she adds.

Innovators Want Authenticity

Of the VALS types, Innovators have the highest incomes. More importantly, Innovators are confident enough to experiment; they tend to view advertising with skepticism. They want the real deal.

“Innovators are number one into authenticity,” Breman says. “They are also into experiences, but not the typical tourist experience like a cruise or a European tour. They want different, authentic experiences, like a trip up the Amazon or to go hiking in the Himalayas. Jeep’s off-roading capability is a turn on for them.”

Innovators are independent by nature. The Wrangler or its Unlimited big brother will have appeal to Innovators who don’t want to run with the pack, but chart their own course.

Experiencers Can’t Wait

Experiencers have the greatest aspiration for the Jeep brand among all the VALS types, with 18% saying they would buy a Jeep. But as of yet, most Experiencers haven’t yet fulfilled that aspiration. “As the youngest of the types, Experiencers are dynamic, always on the go. They want the Jeep experience, but for most, their incomes haven’t caught up to their appetites,” Breman explains.

Experiencers want to find their own path. “Jeep pretty much says I am an independent person. Plus Jeep has the macho factor going for it, with a ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ look to its grill,” she continues.

While the Wrangler is picture-perfect for Experiencers, they may lean toward Jeep’s entry-level Renegade model because of their modest incomes.

Jeep’s Brand Promise: Freedom, Adventure, Authenticity, Passion

As brand, Jeep explains, “Our brand is built on the pillars of freedom, adventure, authenticity and passion,” qualities that appeal to Thinkers, Achievers, Innovators and Experiencers. To those qualities, Jeep adds an “unwavering commitment to strength and meaningful engineering that has helped forge an extraordinary, uncommon bond between our vehicles and their owners.”

That bond gives Jeep “heart share,” which is the Holy Grail for any brand. Jeep’s hold on the American psyche runs deep. It’s held the top slot in the list of America’s most patriotic brand for the past 19 years, according to Brand Keys. That value is immeasurable.

Consumers’ Experiential Turn

Jeep’s most-engaged consumers now and in the future are the Thinkers, Achievers, Innovators and ultimately, Experiencers. Breman sees a common thread that motivates them all: The value of intangibles over tangibles.

“When Baby Boomers grew up, it was all about consumerism. That is what made the consumer marketplace grow into what it is today,” she says. “But today, the value of owning things is being replaced by a desire for experiences.”

“The old adage, ‘He that dies with the most toys wins,’ has been replaced. It’s now,’He [ or she] that dies with the best toys wins,’” Breman concludes.

Jeep understands this shift and is aiming to provide its customers with the best toys with heritage, authenticity and patriotism thrown in.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Pamela Danziger, Owner, Unity Marketing

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