Jeep is an American icon, originally conceived in the early 1900's by Willys Overland, who displayed its ability to drive over steps. In 1941, Jeep was instrumental to the war effort with the original all-terrain vehicle that served as transportation for soldiers in World War II. Jeep has always been based in Toledo, Ohio and two of their current top models, the Wrangler which is made in Toledo, Ohio and the Grand Cherokee which is made in Detroit, Michigan have served as a jobs engine in the Midwest. Jeep also does a lot of community outreach and I had the pleasure of speaking with head of Jeep advertising, Kim Adams-House to talk Jeep, their sponsorship of Team USA, partnership with Chris Paul, and her journey in the industry. Our discussion follows.
OI: So introduce yourself and what's going on out here today.
KAH: I'm Kim Adams-House. I am the head of Jeep advertising and today we are here for the Jeep Experience the Power event that's part of our partnership with Jeep and USA Basketball. We are bringing the game, actually, to the consumers in DC and right behind you is an incredible basketball themed, ride and drive experience where the consumers have the chance to actually passenger in the vehicle, see the capability, actually experience the vehicle for what it has to offer. It's really great, exciting. I think sometimes people are on pins and needles with regard to what the vehicle is truly capable of doing and then on the inside of the tent again everything again is basketball themed. We have a basketball half court where you can shoot and win prizes. We have a clip book. We have music playing. We also have pictures that the consumers can actually take behind a wall of USA Basketball merchandise and it has really been a great, engaging experience for us and beyond all that, you know this really started in back in April with the start of our partnership and at that time on the west coast we actually did a launch event that was pivotal to launching our campaign, revealing the vehicle that's in the actual campaign, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Altitude Edition and celebrating the partnership. So from April until now. it's been an incredible journey, multi-faceted campaign that included television featuring Chris Paul as our USA Basketball spokesperson.
OI: With also Common.
KAH: Right, Common was in it. Common actually was great. He actually did a custom track for us that's featured on the actual television spot and he also serves as the voiceover...The great thing is we dimensionalized the relationship and did a number of things in the community with Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, the ESPN...
OI: Of course, which is a great charter school.
KAH: You got it and what we did is that we mentored the students there and then we also have brought them into Chrysler to actually see firsthand the design office and speak to the designers so they can see what they can aspire to.
OI: And when you even talk about Ralph.
KAH: Well, Ralph was actually one of the speakers when we brought them in and he basically told them I'd love to see you walking the halls with me one day so it was really great.
OI: Even when you talk about Ralph and that just emphasizes diversity to be – Ralph to me, Ralph to be at the position he is in automobile industry, for young individuals in inner cities, especially when you're talking about cities that have been hit hard like Detroit, it is a huge aspiration to say well this guy is at the CEO level. He's at the global design level. He generates billions of dollars of revenue off the creations that he manages.
KAH: Off the design and the great thing about it is he is so pivotal and I think that the vision, the design vision of all of our products, I mean Jeep is one great example 2011 Grand Cherokee that launched in 2010 has been incredible and has been named the most awarded SUV ever and it has been products like that. The Jeep Wrangler, I mean, it speaks for itself in terms of what it's been able to do to assist in growing the brand and also supporting the company and then we have two vehicles out in the front...actually four vehicles, the 2012 Jeep Altitude editions that have the black rims and intrinsic design cues on the inside that really showcase the style element of our brand as well. Many people are well aware of the capability aspect of the Jeep brand, but you will see through the design evolution of some of our products that we actually are able to, you know, and treat people based on styling as well. The Compass and Patriot actually get 29 miles per gallon so from a fuel efficiency standpoint and a pricing standpoint these vehicles are lined up and can appeal to anybody.
OI: Even talking about that because when we talk about Chrysler, we go back to '08. It was a very tough year early on, even the Jeep brand and Chrysler's had a storied history, but before we even go deeper into history and talk about vehicles like this, in '09 I remember that at the New York Auto Show, the only new product Chrysler had in the shed, developed was the Jeep Grand Cherokee. So talk about that, like Toledo, Jeep because that was the only product that Fiat had to look at that was already at completion stage to decide are we going to go in on this or not.
KAH: Well, the great thing about it is that was the first vehicle that the company launched after...Fiat became involved. It was important for the entire company to basically, you know, launch that vehicle flawlessly and that was almost two years ago that we actually – it was a little bit more than two years ago that we actually did it and there is no doubt...based on the types of sales, the new consumers, the conquest sales that we have been able to...have as part of our sales success. It has been an incredible journey and one of the biggest things is a year after we launched that vehicle it holds the position of the most awarded SUV ever and that is a phenomenal position to have, no question about it. And so what we've been able to do with great product design, great engineering, great manufacturing, world-class manufacturing, we've been able to have Grand Cherokee hold such a coveted position in the industry and the quality story for our brand continues to evolve with Consumer Report basically naming the Jeep brand as one of the strongest in quality. I mean it has been an incredible story.
OI: Even when you're talking about that. Obviously when you're talking about the Grand Cherokee and you're looking at the craftsmanship - Overland model – Overland which actually goes back to the history...You're going back to Overland to the early – 1908, early history of the company and when you look at the Overland model, the fit and finish, the leathers, the stitching, the materials, the interiors, you talk about most awarded - those are some of those fabrics in that quality. So talk about that because normally when you see American SUV's at that price point, they don't really add those extra premium materials where you see those leather stitching on the dash, leather stitching, Nappa leather, real soft material, real...ingrained wood, polished wood burst. Talk about that.
KAH: Well, you know the thing about it is that the cornerstone of our launch back in 2010 was pivotal on that premise alone. It was about the quality. It was about the craftsmanship. It was about the attention to detail and we showcased that in our advertising campaign, the things we make, make us. It showcased the Jefferson North assembly plant and the people inside the plant that embrace world-class manufacturing and tooth and nail, really did an incredible job building that product so that it could stand and compete with any vehicle in the marketplace. That was a cornerstone and we've continued to leverage the story of...the attention to detail, the quality, the leather, the performance, the safety. It's an IIHS top safety pick year after year...and the awards continue. It's a Consumer's Digest Best Buy. I mean the most awarded SUV ever is a coveted - very coveted, you know, label to have and we've been able to leverage that throughout another campaign that we did in 2011 that we continue to use today. It's our new tagline for the vehicle.
OI: Now even talking about that, you guys have been very, very successful with the brand, with the product the Grand Cherokee, you're starting from $26K all the way up to over 50 when you get into the SRT8 model that has what, 465 horses, 465 foot pound of torque and that scale has allowed you guys to get...almost 100,000 annual volume?
KAH: I mean our volume has been incredible year over year, showing significant improvements and the one thing about it is that I think what is happening is that others are starting to take a look at the Jeep brand and the Grand Cherokee and the rest of the lineup because, you know, the story is so strong. I think with the sales success comes...more attention from consumers who are looking to buy vehicles to fit their needs and they're turning in other competitive vehicles and basically buying Jeep vehicles. What better position could we be in and I think for sure it offers the opportunity for consumers to see the breadth of the brand. I mean we start with our Patriot at around $16,000, 29 miles per gallon along with our Jeep Compass that had a great redesign...or redesign or refresh in 2011. And then as we move into Wrangler and Cherokee, you know one is the icon and one is the hero, but they are truly...the key elements that support the brand, but every single product that we build and manufacture...we accomplish the same thing in concert for the brand and I think it's given consumers the opportunity to see really what we are about – the quality, the craftsmanship, the fuel efficiency, the safety...The story is great and we're very proud to have been fortunate enough to have, you know, this great legacy that we have over 70 years.
OI: And even just piggybacking off of that as far as the sales 'cause when I dug deeper into what's going on at Jeep, you guys are manufacturing in Detroit.
KAH: Actually the Jefferson North assembly plant.
OI: The Jefferson North assembly plant and you guys can't even keep – you guys are expanding shifts – people [are] getting overtime so people that - in the city...
KAH: Well, the great thing about it, not to interrupt you, you know over the last couple of years we've added thousands of jobs at the Jefferson North assembly plant and that is helping to strengthen the economy in the Detroit metro area, giving people the opportunity to be a part of our success and so by contributing...on the manufacturing side which is so pivotal to...making sure that we build world-class vehicles. I mean what other - what greater testament do we have than to give back to the community where we live and work.
OI: And that's why it's so important when you talk about the craftsmanship because the craftsmanship – what's going on at the Jefferson plant was so great, the tooling, the skills of the workers there - Fiat is actually bringing the Maserati truck manufacturing to the same plant. Am I correct?
KAH: Well, you know what, there's some future discussions with regard to that I can't discuss with you and some of the actual product discussion is very, you know, some of it is a little tightly held and there are other people that I can truly put you in contact with to get more into that story, but overall I can truly say that the opportunity is there and the opportunity is [ripe] and that's the beauty of the partnership that we have and actually not the partnership but the involvement that we have with Fiat has allowed us to diversify beyond what we probably could have done before. You know, the technology's there in our other products and they're being launched right now. The Dodge Dart, for example, it is a great success story that we have leveraged as a company to really give us the opportunity for success and I think looking behind us and looking ahead, the story is definitely favorable as you look ahead.
OI: Of course and when you talk about Jeep, obviously, and Jeep has a storied history in Toledo, Ohio. The president was in the suburbs not long ago but the Wrangler is manufactured there. Am I correct?
KAH: It is manufactured in Toledo, Ohio.
OI: Yes, so talk about that too because we're talking about jobs in Detroit but now we're talking about the Jeep brand's also doing heavy manufacturing in Toledo.
KAH: I'll be honest with you. The key piece to that story is that the demand for that product is so great, we can barely keep up with it and what that vehicle has done in a short period of time is really returned our brand along with the Grand Cherokee to support the company by actually having manufacturing facilities – it's just an hour and a half away from Detroit...
OI: ...right down 75...
KAH: ...We are again, you know, giving meaningful work to the people of the Toledo community...That vehicle is the cornerstone. It is the icon of our brand...We feel that it is so strong that we have dimensionalized it through a number of buzz models. The Wrangler Freedom edition was just launched in celebration of our military veterans. It's actually entitled the “Oscar Mike” which is a military term that's used. In the front we have the Jeep Wrangler Altitude edition which is the same one that's featured in the USA Basketball campaign. We've had the Arctic edition. We've had the Mountain edition. We've had a Call of Duty edition...
OI: Yes and that was a special – I liked that one and that was a great tie-in with the game with the military and you have this great first-person shooter, top-selling game, billion-dollar gaming franchise partnering with this American icon that really started the SUV...Jeep started the SUV...
KAH: Well, the Jeep brand did..
OI: Overland was bringing cars onto steps and showing transmissions in the early 1900's...
KAH: For sure and the good thing about it is that, you know, this vehicle started, you know, the whole story. So going back way to 1941 and 70 plus years later, we feel that we're in a position right now where we have grown and extended our brand and there's a lot to look forward to in the future. I mean we're excited. We're sitting on the edge of our seats, you know, celebrating the great history and legacy that we've had. I think that...just in recent years we've seen a huge turn in terms of our sales volume with year over year increases, but...there aren't very many brands that can look back over 70 years to the capability story that we maintain, the quality story that we maintain, the connection with America that we maintain and that is exactly what's being celebrated here today. You know this partnership with the USA Basketball team is one that allows two American icons to come together with a humble spirit supporting the men and women who are, you know, working on behalf of our country to bring back the gold medal. The other thing that we've done, you know, just in terms of philanthropic elements as part of this USA Basketball campaign is that we've reached into the community and we've given people the opportunity to nominate those who are doing good in the community and we have rewarded them with $20,000 that we gave a Sixth Man of the Year and a Sixth Woman of the Year, based on what they're doing in their respective communities. One is a veteran of the military that was injured, spent months in a military hospital, severely injured, lost the sight in his eye and he's now able to give back and help other veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome. There's a woman one who lost her job who's helping the homeless by feeding them. So it's one thing to have the success that we've had with the Jeep brand, but it's another thing to really give back not just through our manufacturing to our community, but to give back to just the average people who are doing great things and need to be showcased.
OI: Now talking about that because Jeep history, World War II...being very influential in providing that support, the vehicle support for our troops in World War II...to now, 70 years, but I'm also interested in your history with Jeep and Chrysler. So kind of give us insight to your history at the company.
KAH: Well, I've been with the company for a little more than thirteen years so I have seen, you know, the great struggles that we've had to face and I've seen a very strong company come out of it.
OI: You've been through a lot of different management, Iaccoca, Daimler, Cerberus...
KAH: But you know the thing about it is that I think we can stand very proud today and see that all of that, you know the ups and the downs made us who we are today and I think one of the things is that it's given us focus. It's given us dedication. It's given us courage to fight through adversity and I think to ensure that the products that we put on the road today are the absolute best and can line up with any competitive vehicle out there. My history goes back. I actually started out as the brand manager for the Jeep Wrangler when I first came to the company and I moved into a number of different positions in brand management, the Liberty I had responsibility...for that. I also did product planning for the Jeep Commander...and then I moved into the advertising communications side, primarily for Jeep within the last four - five years. So I've seen a lot. I've been through a lot but I am very happy to...be a part of the success story that we have going right now. It couldn't be better and I think it's a testament to...our CEO, Mike Manley, who's the CEO of Jeep and the CEO of the company, Sergio Marchionne and the entire team to really focus and understand that, you know, this is a multi-faceted story, multi-faceted company that has a focus on bringing quality products to the marketplace and...been doing a pretty doggone good job of it.
OI: ...Talking about Wrangler, how did you guys make the decision to add two more doors to make it a four-door product?
KAH: Well...the thing about it is that...that vehicle has always been very iconic. I mean, people have loved it for a long time but at that time it was a little bit more of a lifestyle vehicle...or life stage vehicle where people were probably buying it...when they were not married with children and it had kind of a limited time frame or people were buying it for a second vehicle for summer homes and things like that. And so what the four-door afforded us is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of our brand and bring families in because it can comfortably seat five passengers or it's no longer a life stage vehicle, it is just a vehicle that's available regardless of what your life stage is, so it really has made a huge difference in...our performance overall and has done an incredible job.
OI: So now, just in conclusion talk about then diversity at Jeep and Chrysler and the different opportunities and also other people that aspire to get into the industry how they could get a leg in.
KAH: Well, the thing about it is that I think one of the things we've opted and chosen to do is to share our talents and the hard work that it takes to be successful in this industry with young people, tell the story that, you know, this is something that is tangible for you. This is an opportunity that is not out of reach and all it takes really is to work hard. I was born in Detroit. You know, I went to the University of Michigan for undergrad...used that opportunity to navigate and understand what I wanted to do and then beyond that I went to graduate school and got an M.B.A. and I want to set myself as an example to young people... throughout the country, anybody that I talk to and specifically...in our own backyard, to let them know that this is a possibility. Aspire for greatness. Enable yourself to do extraordinary things. I mean that's what our brand is, an enabler and we truly feel that, you know, giving opportunities to the buying public and the community allows us to really fulfill a vision that we have.
OI: Thanks so much for your time...