SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - Jeep sales last year topped 1 million for the first time, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles's rugged brand rode a wave of consumer demand for sport-utility vehicles, including its Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, fueled by lower gasoline prices.
Global sales advanced 39 percent to 1.02 million, the company said Tuesday in an emailed statement. That was led by 692,348 deliveries in the United States, a 41 percent increase from a year earlier, making it the fastest-growing major auto brand in the U.S. market, where gas prices are at their lowest since 2009. Jeep has increased sales globally and the U.S. for five consecutive years.
Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler's chief executive officer, said at last year's Detroit auto show that Jeep sales would exceed the 1 million milestone in 2014. At the same time, brand CEO Mike Manley said reaching that goal would be a "stretch" and was more realistic for 2015. In 2009, Manley forecast about global sales of 800,000 Jeeps for 2014.
"Coming in at just over a million is clearly an amazing result," Manley said in an interview. "I've just been very pleased with the way the entire portfolio has performed."
Jeep global sales have soared more than fourfold since 2009, buoyed by well-received new products and demand for SUVs. The popularity of the new Cherokee, which sold 178,508 in its first full year in the U.S., helped the brand reach its goal sooner than Manley anticipated. The SUV also helped Fiat Chrysler to gain the most market share of any major automaker.
The company, created by the merger of Fiat and Chrysler Group, increased its sales in the U.S. by 16 percent last year, lifting its market share to 12.7 percent from 11.5 percent in 2013, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The automaker now based in London moved its listing to the New York Stock Exchange from Milan in October. Its shares gained 1.3 percent to $11.40 as of 11:40 a.m.
The Cherokee name returned to the U.S. market in late 2013 after last being used for a Jeep model in 2001. Fiat Chrysler is expanding Jeep's U.S. lineup this year with the subcompact Renegade, and adding production in Europe, Brazil and China, the world's largest auto market. Jeep plans to introduce a refreshed Grand Cherokee this year as well, Manley said.
The Renegade goes on sale in the U.S. by the end of March. The vehicle started deliveries in Europe in November, selling about 9,000 models in the region's main markets, Manley said.
"November and December are not the biggest months for sales in Europe, so it's a really good start," he said.
Production in China should begin by the end of this year and in Brazil early in the second quarter, he said. By 2018, Fiat Chrysler has said it will produce about 900,000 vehicles outside of North America to take advantage of consumer demand in Asia, Europe and Latin America.