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History of Jeep

Jeep is a famous American auto brand and part of the Chrysler Group, which after the Great Recession is a fully owned subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Over the years Jeep has provided its consumers a wide range of sports utility and off-road vehicles.  It was initially designed to be a military all-purpose vehicle, yet it eventually evolved to become one of the most famous brands in the world.

The name Jeep was believed to have been developed from the letters GP, which means “General Purpose” or “Government Purpose” vehicle. The pronunciation of the acronyms were believed to have been slurred, that’s why it became “Jeep,” just as HMMWV (High-Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle) has become known as the “Humvee.”

Another possible origin for the name was derived from the 1963 Popeye comic strip character named “Eugene the Jeep”. Eugene was an animal that can travel back and forth to different dimensions. A well-known published photo captioned in the Washington Daily News in 1941 “Jeep Creeps up Capitol Steps” was probably the first reference to the Jeep that was released by the media.  The “Jeep” was being demonstrated on the capital steps by the then owner Willys-Overland.

JEEP and World War II (the 1940’s)

The Jeep was born out of the necessities of the US Army during the World War II.  When the Army knew they would be involved in the war in Europe, they contacted 135 companies to create working prototypes of a lightweight army reconnaissance car. This is a vehicle that would replace both horses and motorcycles as a general-purpose transportation device. They want it to be small enough to be driven across rugged terrain and heavily-wooded areas, but large enough to transport troops and equipment. The Army gave a short deadline of 49 days – so, because it was seemingly impossible – only two companies responded: Willys-Overland and American Bantam.

Willys asked for an extension, but was declined. American Bantam was already bankrupt by then, but it plead with an engineer and a freelance designer named Karl Probst. Probst initially turned down Bantam’s request, but later responded when the Army itself asked him. He started working on the prototype on July 17, 1940 and successfully completed plans for it in just two days. His prototype was named BRC or Bantam Reconnaissance Car. By July 22, Bantam’s plan was already submitted, complete with cost estimates and blueprints. The hand-built prototype was tested for the Army by September 21, and it met all the criteria, except for engine torque. 

The Army thought that American Bantam was too small to build and supply the amount of cars required, so they gave copies of the original design to Willys and Ford. They even gave the green light to modify the design. Bantam vehemently protested, but the situation was so urgent that there is no time for formalities. This resulted to Willy’s “Quad” in November 13, 1940, and with Ford’s “Pygmy” 10 days later, which both looked similar to Bantam’s BRC prototype. Willy’s chief engineer Delmar Roos tweaked the design and used the company’s own powerful engine, and they won the initial production contract. Willy’s version of the prototype became the first standard design of the Jeep.

Produced only in 75 days, Willy’s Quad featured the 4×4 system – the first Jeep ever provided for the army. The Jeep carried out ammunition and even wounded army soldiers. Designed to withstand the harsh environment, the Jeep was indeed an Army man’s best friend.

Since the US War Department needed a large number of the vehicles in a short span of time, Willys-Overland allowed the government to give other manufacturers the permission to build vehicles using their design. The Army picked Ford to become the second supplier. Meanwhile, the original creator, American Bantam, built around 2,700 of them using their own design, but proceeded to build heavy-duty trailers for the Army during the rest of the war.

The standard Jeep by Willys-Overland was called the Model MB. Meanwhile, the vehicles built by Ford were the Model GPW, which had every component marked with “F” so that the cars can be differentiated from Willys’ Jeeps.  

Known to become the most suitable war vehicle, the Jeep was used by every US Military department, and were used for several purposes including saw milling and cable laying. Some were even used as field ambulances, tractors, and firefighting pumpers. Several units were also manufactured and shipped throughout Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, all of which were part of the US Allied Forces.

JEEP and the Private Citizen

After the World War II, Willys-Overland needed to think of a way for the Jeep to still exist in the market. They began to experiment new designs for the Jeep, including the CJ-V35/U, which was a model that can drive underwater. Modifications were made to fit more private citizens, and Willys then produced the CJ-2A in 1945 (by the way, CJ stands for “Civilian Jeep”) and CJ-3B in 1955. The CJ-2A was helpful for farmers and was designed to work all day without overheating and mechanical failure.

Jeep became a standalone brand and released some eye-catching designs. In 1946, Willys created the first Jeep station wagon, which is an all-steel vehicle with a design far different from Jeep’s initial vehicle. Later on, they created the Jeep pick-up truck, and the Jeepster, a sports-type jeep that looks a conventional car and lacks the original 4×4 design.

The CJ was produced for roughly four decades with several generations until it was eventually replaced by Wrangler, as the first model named Wrangler YJ that was introduced in 1987. The YJ looked more modern-looking than the crude Willys MB. Wrangler became a popular Jeep vehicle, and a fourth generation is expected to be released in 2018.

JEEP and its Owners

While the Jeep became a standalone brand under the ownership of Willys-Overland, the company never fully enjoyed its ownership. It has been passed on from automaker to automaker, leaving a company bankrupt or defunct with every turnover. The Jeep was successful – it became one of the most recognizable brands from the US – but it struggled with a lot of failures in the past.

As it experienced huge decline in sales, Willys-Overland was acquired by Kaiser Motor in 1953, and had the name replaced to Willys Motor Company. Kaiser became responsible for another significant World War II vehicle – the Liberty Ship. In 1963, the company was renamed Kaiser-Jeep, dropping the Willys name altogether.

In 1963, the Wagoneer was introduced by Kaiser-Jeep. Wagoneer is a more civilized version of the CJ, with a fully-enclosed body that looks like a station wagon. It was considered as one of forefathers of the modern SUV.

American Motors Corporation (AMC) bought Kaiser’s money-losing Jeep operations in 1969. AMC produced the XJ Cherokee. A classic-styled SUV, it has a simple design that somewhat reflects its predecessors. Several modifications were made to fit the ever-changing needs of the consumers. However, the partnership between Jeep and AMC lasted only for 18 years. Jeep grew under AMC, but the rest of the company’s lineup slowly withered away. Even AMC’s biggest investor, Renault, couldn’t save them as the latter has been experiencing financial troubles on their own.

During that time, Chrysler Corporation showed great interest with the Jeep brand and other assents of AMC. In 1987, Chrysler has bought out AMC. Under Chrysler’s management in the 1980s, the Jeep had its two significant versions, the XJ Cherokee and Liberty. They were also responsible for the birth of Wrangler. The XJ became Jeep’s first modern SUV, which pushed the Jeep brand further to the mainstream market.

It was Chrysler who made the Jeep rise back from failures. To promote the vehicle, Chrysler has provided every executive of the corporate with their very own Jeep. Chrysler envisioned the Jeep as the new SUV, allowing the growth of both Jeep’s popularity and Chrysler’s profit. Jeep helped the entire SUV industry to boom during the 1900s. But as the decade drew to a close, things started to sour.

In 1998, a $38 billion merge happened between Chrysler and Daimler AG and formed DaimlerChrysler. However, after less than 10 years, the merged company needed to sell most of their interest to a private investment firm named Cerberus Capital Management. The company was also greatly crippled by the recession during 2008-2010. Later on, Chrysler and the Jeep division was managed under Chrysler Group LLC, but the name was changed to FCA US LLC by 2014.

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, but before being fully defunct, it was acquired by Fiat to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). In 2009, under the Fiat management, Chrysler emerged from its bankruptcy. The merger of the Fiat-Chrysler gave focus on the value of the Jeep in worldwide production. The newly improved Grand Cherokee was Fiat’s first project. A subcompact Renegade, a more subtle Wrangler and the re-birth of the Wagoneer were all part of the Fiat’s plan to put Jeep back to the market. And true enough, the Jeep brand has even set records in global shipments for the past 5 years in a row, thus recognizing the Jeep as a worldwide vehicle.

For over 75 years, it was not all success for the Jeep. With the constant demand for an updated vehicle and the rise and fall of the economy, the Jeep, much like it’s design, was rough and tough, built to withstand different obstacles. From war-driven vehicle to the modern-day SUV, the Jeep has evolved in such a way that it has proven its worth in the automobile market.