The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been an award winning and hugely successful product for Jeep. With an all-new model right around the corner, a rare photo brings the story of the first Grand Cherokee to light, specifically that it could have been a Dodge. This photo, from Patrick Foster’s book Jeep: The History Of America’s Greatest Vehicle, was uncovered by the Car Design Archives Facebook page and published in a story by The Drive.
The story begins back in the 1980s when Jeep was looking to replace the Cherokee with a new model. Somewhere in its production, the decision was made that it didn’t have to replace the Cherokee, but instead sit along side it. So, the larger Grand Cherokee idea began.
When Dodge got news of this, they wondered why the new SUV even had to be a Jeep if it wasn’t going to replace any existing vehicles. Getting a vehicle on the in-development Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ platform would allow them to cash in on the emerging crossover/soft-SUV market with lower development costs. But Chrysler only had the funding to put a Dodge or a Jeep on the platform, not both.
Then-Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca challenged Jeep and Dodge each to design a vehicle on the ZJ platform. Dodge’s offering is the red, recently uncovered photo below.
It’s a little strange to look at. There are obvious similarities in the overall shape to the first-gen Jeep Grand Cherokee, with just enough standard-issue 1980’s badge engineering to differentiate it. Most notable is the iconic crosshair grille up front. You can also just make out the nose of the Grand Cherokee behind it too.
At the end of the day, Jeep won the competition, with the Grand Cherokee going on sale soon after in 1992. What’s a little odd is that Dodge’s own SUV, the Durango, came out just a few years later. With the amount of platform sharing in the car industry today, it seems strange that Chrysler couldn’t afford to put both models on the same platform, but could have two separate models released in relative proximity.
Soon, the next chapter of the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s story will begin. The expectation is that the all-new SUV will debut this fall, and will incorporate everything from an Alfa Romeo platform, to electrification. Stay tuned for more.