As a result of recent events like the Black Lives Matter protests and the untimely death of George Floyd, America has been at odds with itself in redefining what social justice is. In the process, it has ruffled feathers on both sides. Companies and sports teams across the U.S. are re-naming brands and replacing symbols, names, and products that many deem to be culturally inappropriate for today’s climate. This has sparked controversy and backlash. From the re-naming of the Washington Redskins to “Washington’s Football Team” to the removal of rather insensitive names on bottles of syrups and rice, brands everywhere are rethinking their use of other cultures as a means for merchandising.
The latest brand at this uncomfortable crossroads is Jeep. For the first time since 1974, the Cherokee Nation is peacefully calling for re-naming the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models. Here is what Chuck Hoskin Jr., the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, said recently.
“I’m sure this comes from a place that is well-intended, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car, the best way to honor us is to learn about our sovereign government, our role in this country, our history, culture, and language, and have meaningful dialogue with federally recognized tribes on cultural appropriateness.”
Jeep has responded to Mr. Hoskin’s request stating…
“Our vehicle names have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride, we are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.”
Now, right next to operating room cleaner and sperm bank attendant sits political opinion writer on the list of jobs you couldn’t pay me to do, so I’m going to look at and analyze this issue with respect to the one job that I’d do without pay, an automotive writer. The ultimate point of a car company (or any company) is to make money. That’s the bottom line. As for my opinion that nobody asked for: bury the name, Jeep. You already killed it, anyway. When Jeep launched the UFO-inspired 2014 Cherokee KL, it was the first time Jeep made a vehicle that’s style was as controversial as its name. Jeep didn’t really care about the Cherokee’s legacy but just wanted to exploit it for money. It looked absolutely nothing like its (automotive) namesake, nor did it even look like a Jeep. But buyers didn’t seem to care. They had a glut for egg-shaped blobs in their driveways, and the Cherokee could have sold just as well had it been called something like C3PO or R2D2. This was an attempt to draw attention to the latest crossover now for sale to the buying public in hopes that the Cherokee name would distinguish it from the rest of the competition. But here’s the thing: nobody who buys this car care about the name, nor do they care about the XJ, as none of its spiritual DNA has translated. Ask any XJ purist. Ford just did the same thing when it launched the Mustang Mach E and glommed onto the storied Mustang name to draw attention away from whatever Elon Musk was doing. Neither the Mach E nor the current Cherokee are bad vehicles objectively. However, they are certainly not made up of any secret sauce that made the “original” versions so revered. Here’s the deal, Jeep; just end it.
There’s no point getting involved in a PR nightmare over a name that most Cherokee customers really don’t care about. Face it, anyone who does anything that resembles off-roading is just buying Wranglers and Gladiators. The devotees of the XJ are not going out and buying the KL model. The people who buy the Cherokee (and Grand Cherokee) mostly buy them for the other name. The four-letter one on the front. The storied Cherokee name means really little to those who buy the current vehicles carrying those names, who mostly cross-shop it with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Jeep has a decent bank of names to select from, especially with the recently discontinued Commander, Liberty, and Patriot names. What will Jeep do? That’s anyone’s guess. We’ll just have to wait and see, and hopefully, both parties can come to an amicable decision.