2014 Jeep Cherokees finally en route to dealershipsMon, 21 Oct 2013
Car haulers loaded with 2014 Jeep Cherokee stick out on the flat farmland like elephants on the savannah -- lumbering behemoths easy to spot, even from miles away.
In ones and twos they rumble the 15 miles west from Chrysler Group's massive Toledo, Ohio, assembly complex toward a former supplier-owned automotive testing center.
The Cherokees were due in dealerships almost two months ago but have been held while Chrysler developed and installed new software to smooth out the way the engine, nine-speed transmission and innovative disconnecting drivetrain interact.
The detour between factory and dealership is part of the unusual validation process Chrysler is using to get its new mid-sized SUV to market. To make sure the powertrain is working right, the automaker has been test driving each Cherokee before it is released for delivery.
The process has been cumbersome, but after many weeks of delay, sources said Jeep expects to begin delivering Cherokees over the next 10 days.
That's good news for dealers.
"Demand has been good," said Josh Towbin, co-owner of Towbin Automotive, which has a pair of Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram stores in Las Vegas. "We've been asked every single day when it's going to arrive, and we're going to take every one we can get."
A Chrysler spokesman declined to comment on the updated delivery schedule. But dealers began seeing changes in the status of their overdue Cherokees last week, indicating they were on the way.
Chrysler has built about 23,000 Cherokees since production of the SUV began June 24.
As it waited for a fix, Chrysler has been storing the vehicles in vast parking lots across southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio until it could install and test the software patch.
Some of that testing was taking place here last week at the Michigan Technical Resource Park, just outside Toledo.
The privately owned, 332-acre testing facility was built by Dana Holding Corp., the Toledo-based powertrain and axle supplier, and has a 1.75-mile high-speed oval test track as well as full 4x4 testing obstacles and dynamometers.
Chrysler is renting a huge portion of the complex to test scores of Cherokees each day.
As the Cherokees arrive, the SUVs are unloaded outside, parked on the grass and staged for their test.
Eventually, the Cherokees are pulled out and driven out onto the track, a handful at a time, for at least two high-speed laps. Once completed, they are either parked in an adjacent staging area for shipment or returned for further adjustments and more testing.
A Chrysler spokesman declined to comment on the testing regimen. But for dealers, the long wait is worthwhile if it improves the Cherokee's quality.
Said dealer Towbin: "I'm glad they're doing that because you want them to get all the kinks out before the Cherokees go out."
Overdue Cherokees are on their way at lastoriginally appeared at Automotive News.
By Larry P. Vellequette