In a bid to shed its gas-guzzling image, Jeep is going green, aiming to have 70 per cent of its sales be electrified by 2025. It’s part of a grander scheme from parent company, Stellantis, which is investing 30 billion euros in electric vehicles through 2025. But the plan seems a bit too ambitious considering Jeep only has two plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, in the family to date and time is ticking away with only three years to reach that target. “You need to shoot for the moon to land on the moon,” says Jeep CEO Christian Meunier after the unveiling of Jeep’s second plug-in hybrid, the Grand Cherokee 4xe – the name given to Jeep’s PHEVs.
The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe follows in the footsteps of Jeep’s first plug-in hybrid, the Wrangler 4xe. Since the Wrangler 4xe went on sale earlier this year, it’s now the number one selling plug-in hybrid in the US; in Canada, it was the second best-selling plug-in hybrid in Q3 of 2021.
The Grand Cherokee 4xe shares the same hybrid powertrain as the Wrangler 4xe. It has a 400-volt battery pack and a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to two electric motors which deliver 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. The combined driving range is about 710 kilometres. Of that, it can only travel a mere 40 kilometres on electric power. 40 clicks – that’s it!? And depending on your driving style and the temperature outside, that number will drop quickly. Many plug-in hybrids, like the Lexus NX and Toyota RAV4, have up to 60 kms of electric range. Granted, they’re not a direct competitor with off-roading capabilities, but they do offer more electric range than the Jeep. When it’s only 40 kms, why bother even plugging it in? Do the cost savings add up at the pump?
“They’re not maybe the best-in-class, but we believe those numbers [40 km or 25 miles] are good,” admits Meunier. “In a plug-in we need to balance what you can do with the weight of the car, the efficiency of the car and the towing capacity of the car. As a Jeep, we wanted the most capable product as possible and there was no way we could compromise on that capability for adding additional batteries.”
Maybe I’m alone in my thinking – but the range needs to be higher. Some people, like audio technician Phil Donaldson, 44, from Pickering, Ontario, isn’t bothered by it. A hard core Jeep fan, he has owned several Jeeps over the decades including a 1999 TJ. He wasn’t planning on going electric, yet. In fact, he had never even heard of Jeep’s first hybrid vehicle until he brought his 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT to the dealership for repairs and took a Wrangler 4xe for a quick spin a few months ago. He was sold on the spot. 4,500 kilometres later, he says “the fuel economy for a beast like that is pretty good.” I imagine anything is better than his V-8 powered SRT.
Donaldson says he averages 7-8L/100 kilometres when plugging it in every night. Admittedly, that’s impressive for a big, brawny 4x4. And when doing quick trips around town, he can get by on electric power alone. “Short trips are great on gas, long trips not so much.” On two longer trips to the Niagara region, the electricity went fast and so did the fuel savings, averaging 10-11L/100 kms. But then again, still better than his SRT.
Donaldson’s bigger beef with the 4xe is the long charging time at home using a standard 110-volt outlet, which takes all night to get a full charge, and the lack of available and working charging stations – something that’s out of the hands of Jeep. Those are two major stumbling blocks for the adoption of vehicles as well as the price premium to buy an electric versus a gas-only vehicle. While prices aren’t available yet for the 2022 Grand Cherokee 4xe, which arrives in Canada early next year, the Wrangler 4xe starts at $54,995 – while the base Wrangler Sport starts around $38,000.
These challenges may hinder Jeep’s ability to meet its ambitious 2025 targets, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Besides, Jeep can work on some issues such as lowering prices on EVs by reducing battery costs and building them in-house – although Meunier is tight-lipped on whether Ontario’s Brampton or Windsor Stellantis facilities are in the running as a possible future battery plants. Still, I applaud Meunier and Jeep’s efforts to hit that 2025 target. “We’re pushing like hell that eventually we will deliver BEVs – a full electric vehicle in every segment by 2025 – it puts a lot of pressure on the system, but it’s going to happen.”