- Jeep is an American car brand known worldwide for its unique design, which features a distinct, vertically-inclined front grill and four-wheel drive.
- Jeep was created during World War II as a military vehicle and was produced by multiple car companies.
- The origin of the name ‘Jeep’ is still debated, but it has become a recognizable word globally.
- Jeep has influenced other car designs, such as the Land Rover, and has been owned by a series of multinational car companies.
- Jeep is currently owned by Stellantis, and has seen consistent sales growth in recent years.
Perhaps more than any car company, Jeep maintains an indelible brand image in the public consciousness. Characterized by its distinct verticle-oriented grill and its all-terrain type build, the Jeep is a classic American car, one of the few known to take on any environment in style.
Much like the Bible, Jeep’s history and its ownership are long, storied, and open to many interpretations. Created under special circumstances for World War II, many car companies had a hand in its production.
Despite being the only car ever developed by a combined private-public sector committee, Jeep has gone on to cultivate its own glory and grown into a successful brand owned by a host of multinational car companies.
What Is Jeep?
Jeep is an American car brand known worldwide for its unique design and functionality. Featuring a distinct vertically-inclined front grill, high-riding axles, and four-wheel drive, Jeep has maintained a recognizable brand through every peak and valley of its existence.
Unlike many other car companies, Jeep was borne out of war. When the American government knew World War II was imminent, it needed a functional military vehicle. So, it contacted one hundred and thirty-five companies to create a working prototype of a four-wheeled car to be used for reconnaissance. Only two companies responded, with the American Bantam Car Company being accepted.
The only problem was that the army wanted it made to order in forty-nine days. Desperate, American Bantam hired designer Karl Probst to draw up the plans. Working without pay, Probst designed what is now known as the Jeep over the course of a week, including blueprints.
The government approved the Jeep with some dispensations but wanted to produce it on a grand scale. So, Willys-Overland and Ford got involved, each creating its own enhanced prototype. By incorporating the powerful “Go Devil” engine, Willys’ head engineer Delmar “Barney” Roos won the initial production contract.
However, due to the unique wartime edicts, American automotive companies were required to put all their production towards the war effort. Regardless, Willys could not keep up with production, so plans were transferred to Ford.
Ultimately, two models were produced by Willys-Overland and Ford, the Model MB and the Model GPW, respectively. By the end of the war, these two models combined accounted for nearly 20% of all wheeled military vehicles used.
Origins of the Name
Much like its enigmatic origins, the name Jeep is instantly recognizable, yet lurks in mystery. Though purported to be a slurring of the military designation GP (general purpose), the word has existed in various military contexts since World War I.
Many claim it as slang for both new recruits and unproven vehicles. Though still unverified, the word “jeep” has become a simple but strange and endearing word instantly recognizable to people across the globe.
The original Jeep was used in every branch of the armed forces, gaining a reputation for its tough yet nimble power and utilitarian potential. A masterpiece of functional design, it was used as everything from a tractor to an ambulance.
Amidst the war, the vehicle was everywhere and it left an indelible impression on the world. After the war, the design was copied by the French car company Delahaye, as well as by the Japanese company Mitsubishi. Even the Land Rover was inspired by the Jeep.
There was a brief legal fight between American Bantam and Willys-Overland, which ostensibly ruled in favor of Bantam. Willys-Overland, however, just carried on ahead and produced a civilian model of the Jeep in 1945, then copyrighted the name a year later.
Due to being the only company still producing the Jeep, Willys-Overland’s version eventually earned a registered trademark in 1950. In fact, Willys-Overland reoriented its entire business towards the Jeep, creating classic models such as the Jeep Station Wagon in 1946 and the Jeepster two years later.
Since then, Jeep has become something of a free agent, with acquisitions by a dizzying string of successive multinational car companies. After Willys-Overland was acquired by Kaiser Motors in 1953, the Jeep brand was taken over by the American Motors Corporation in 1970. A decade later, Renault bought a part of Jeep’s ownership, which it still owns today.
The modern Jeep has only furthered its reputation for unique, functional, four-wheeled designs. Unlike many other car designs, the Jeep is designed for true all-terrain maneuvering. This is thanks to its shorter wheelbases, breakover, and departure angles.
Currently, the brand produces eight model types. Five models are specifically produced by the brand and authorized to be sold at nearly twenty-five hundred dealerships in the United States. Jeep has expanded its offerings in recent years.
Now, its lineup includes station wagons, SUVs, and trucks. Through all this, the company has retained its tactical yet elegant feel.
Company worth estimates are hard to calculate, considering Jeep is a subsidiary of the Fiat Chrysler conglomerate. If Jeep was split into its own company, estimates put its worth somewhere between $22-33.5 billion.
Who Owns the Company?
The Jeep brand is currently owned by Stellantis, a multinational car company. This conglomerate includes Fiat Chrysler and the French PSA Group, and is the fourth largest car company by sales in the world. Before this, however, Jeep was seen as a curse.
This was due to the fact that each company that bought it dissolved or merged into another company after the fact. Jeep, however, bounced back. In 2015 alone, the brand shipped 1.2 million cars.
Since Stellantis is a publically traded company, no one person owns Jeep. It can be argued, however, that the top few shareholders of the company own the largest percentage out of anyone. Famed Italian automakers the Agnelli Family (under the holding company Exor N.V) own the largest percentage of Stellantis at 14.3%.
After that, the second largest shareholder in Stellantis is French automakers the Puegeot Family (Etablissements Peugeot Frères, EPF) with 7.13% of the company. In third place is investment bank BPIFrance with a 6.13% share.
For a long time, Jeep struggled to match sales with the ubiquity of its image. As previously mentioned, the brand acquired a reputation as a snakebit, considering the fact that a string of successful automakers were merged or acquired after buying Jeep.
Only in the 1970s did Jeep become a viable car company, with its first SUV the XJ Cherokee selling two hundred thousand units in 1985. Only two years later, Chrysler acquired the American Motors Corporation specifically for the Jeep. From there, Chrysler merged into Daimler-Benz before folding into DaimlerChrysler. Its fifth and current owner is the conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Things still appear to be on the up and up with Jeep. In the last decade, Jeep has reported a consistent growth in sales. Currently, Jeep vehicles are built under license by manufacturers all over the world, including places like Spain, Japan, and South America.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Artur_Nyk/Shutterstock.com.