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July 21, 2021

12 Key Moments In Jeep's 80-Year History

On July 15, 1941, the former Willys-Overland Co. signed a contract with the U.S. War Department to begin production of the first military Jeep vehicle. Eighty years later, the Jeep brand thrives around the world.

Looking forward, Jeep is looking to expand their product offering into new segments, while also setting a strong foothold in the premium SUV segment. Of course, electrification will be part of their next step with plug-in hybrid technology, and then fully-electric offerings by 2025.

Before that though, it’s good to look at 12 key moments in the past eight decades for the Jeep brand.

#1. 4xe is the New 4x4

The evolution of the Jeep brand accelerated in this 80th anniversary year with the arrival of 4xe, the Jeep brand’s exclusive and proprietary electrification technology. As the icon of the brand, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe is leading the brand’s electrification offensive. Retaining its Trail Rated 4x4 capability thanks to a sealed waterproof battery pack and electronics, it makes an impressive 375 horsepower and 637 Nm of instant torque yet retains a close-to-600 kilometer driving range.

#2. The New American Premium

With the all-new 2022 Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, Jeep is entering the premium SUV segment. It represents a natural extension of the Jeep brand, wrapped in a sophisticated and authentic new design. They build on a rich heritage of premium American craftsmanship, heritage, and refinement.

 #3. Global expansion

During the last decade, the Jeep brand has expanded its global product offering with new nameplates such as the compact Jeep Renegade and the all-new Jeep Gladiator, the most capable Jeep truck ever. The brand also expanded its production footprint, allowing customers in markets such as Europe, Brazil, India, and China to enjoy locally-assembled Jeep brand vehicles. This diverse product portfolio and broad production footprint, with 10 plants in 6 countries allowed the Jeep brand to significantly increase sales in the span of 10 years.

 #4. The ultimate in traction and handling

In 1999, two new four-wheel-drive systems were introduced. The Quadra-Trac II system offered an innovative system that transfers torque rear to front and side to side, meaning drive torque is immediately available to all four wheels—assuring ultimate traction and handling at all times and under all circumstances without driver input. When Quadra-Trac was combined with the new Vari-Lok front and rear progressive axles, which deliver far more torque to the wheel with better grip, the result was the new Quadra-Drive system.

#5. Jeep Grand Cherokee literally breaks through in Detroit

On January 7, 1992, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, then Chrysler President Bob Lutz drove the first new Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ off the Jefferson production line, along the streets of the city and through the glass front door of the Cobo Hall, signifying the breakthrough premium SUV. Grand Cherokee offered upscale interior appointments, on-road ride, handling, and comfort without losing any of the off-road capability that had made the Jeep brand a legend.

#6. The birth of a legend

The arrival of the Jeep Wrangler in 1986 answered the public’s desire for a compact SUV with more creature comforts. It featured a lower center of gravity, improved handling and a more comfortable interior. It set the precedent for one of the most beloved—and capable—Jeep vehicles of all time. Although the Wrangler shared the familiar open-body profile of the CJ-7, it contained few common parts with its famous predecessor. Mechanically, the Wrangler had more in common with the Cherokee. On Aug. 5, 1987, just over a year after the introduction of the Wrangler, American Motors Corporation was sold to the Chrysler Corporation and the popular Jeep Brand became a part of Chrysler's Jeep / Eagle Division.

#7. The world’s first compact SUV: the Cherokee

The energy crisis of 1979 spurred the development of a smaller 4x4. The 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ was designed from the ground up and was the world’s first compact SUV. Using a unibody structure, the vehicle was much smaller than its predecessor yet retained 90 percent of its interior space. The vehicle featured the shift-on-the-fly Command-Trac four-wheel-drive system.

#8. Wagoneer creates the original premium SUV

In 1963, Jeep Wagoneer was the original premium SUV that combined four-wheel drive with an automatic transmission. Featuring options that were, up until then, only available in high-end passenger cars, the Wagoneer changed what people expected of a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This broadened the market and appeal of 4x4 vehicles and created the modern SUV, one that was advertised as “All-New, All-Jeep.” Two decades later, the Jeep brand launched the Grand Wagoneer, which brought the 4X4 premium experience to the next level with standard features such as leather upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM/CB radio, sound insulation and wood graining.

#9. Jeep Jamboree - the "Granddaddy" of all 4-wheel events

In 1953, the first Jeep Jamboree took place at the Georgetown Divide in California, attracting 55 vehicles and 155 participants. This event, organized by Mark Smith, demonstrated just how much owners of Jeep brand vehicles love getting together for fun, camaraderie and 4x4 adventure. While Jeep Jamboree proudly holds events on trails all over the United States, one of the most popular is the Rubicon Trail, which traverses the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California—arguably the most grueling 27 kilometers of off-roading adventure anywhere. Few brands on earth have gone on to generate as much dedication and commitment from its community as the Jeep brand. In every corner of the globe, on every day, there are displays of passion from owners and fans.

#10. The first SUV

In 1946, Willys-Overland introduced the industry’s first all-steel-body station wagon—the Willys Wagon—but the real groundbreaking news was in 1949 when four-wheel drive was added to the wagon to create the first SUV. Capable of carrying seven passengers in comfort, hauling cargo and tackling even the toughest trail, the Willys Wagon was a game-changer. The Brooks Stevens-designed Wagon was in production for nearly 20 years—longer than any other contemporary American automobile of its day.

#11. A Jeep 4x4 for the masses

The 1945 CJ-2A became the world’s first light-duty four-wheel-drive vehicle available in mass quantity to the general public. While the CJ-2A shared the basic architecture of the MB, there were several notable improvements. These included a fold-down tailgate, side-mounted spare tire, larger headlights and a power take-off unit.

#12. An icon is born in wartime

In 1941, Willys-Overland was awarded the contract to be the primary supplier of the new 1/4-ton military vehicle by the U.S. Government. Over 350,000 of these Jeep MBs would be produced by 1945 and would be the basis for the civilian Jeep CJ that would start production even before the war was over.

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