Some words start out as a product name (a noun) and end up as a verb – a word to describe a function or work process. This is known as “anthimeria”, the act of using a word in a new grammatical form. In my youth, several stood out: you could Hoover the carpet or Xerox a document (I’m really showing my age). Today you Google something when you search online or you Photoshop an image to change it.
Another one from my youth was the term Jeep that referred to a four wheel drive vehicle. My father had several AMC Jeeps, so when we used the term it was correct! However, that noun is now causing some issues for FIAT Chrysler (FCA), the current owner of the trademark, Chrysler having bought American Motors Corp, who themselves bought Kaiser Jeep, a merger between Kaiser and Willys – the original trademark owner.
In India, Mahindra & Mahindra, part of the large Mahindra Group has been building “Jeeps” for decades, in fact they started importing Willys Jeeps in 1947 before licensing the design for their own model. Through AMC, Mahindra licensed the CJ3 and later CJ5 models and these became the staple of their small four wheel drive vehicles over the next sixty odd years with slight restyling and new model names: Armada, MM540, Maxx and Thar. Each one using a motor from different sources.
Like other manufacturers outside the US, Europe and Japan, Mahindra wanted to expand globally and started to import vehicles into the US in 2010. This didn’t go smoothly at first and the lawyers got involved. However, in 2017, the company opened a manufacturing plant in Detroit, notable for two things. It was the first new assembly plant in the city for 25 years. The second notable thing was that the first model to be assembled was the Roxor, an evolution of the Thar – which in turn was related to the old AMC CJ designs!
Even though the vehicle was not designed for road use, FCA were unhappy that an evolution of the CJ was now being sold in one of their home markets. FCA said in a court filing that the Roxor threatens them because it will undercut the current Jeep models in price and will damage their business. They are increasingly becoming reliant on the Jeep brand to keep revenues coming in.
It is a little amusing for several reasons. FCA could have rescinded the original agreement decades ago when Chrysler bought AMC, however they probably needed the cash. The same maybe true when Daimler merged with Chrysler and then later when FIAT merged with them. Jeep has saved all of these mergers in some form through the constant revenues generated by such an iconic brand. Really, they should just change the whole entity to Jeep Corporation! Last year, when Mahindra were opening a plant to assemble kits in Detroit, FCA were busy opening a plant in India to assemble Jeeps!
A partisan court may well decide in FCA’s favour (in today’s political climate), however forcing Mahindra to stop building them in the US may cost hundreds of jobs and the original licensing agreement may not have had specific clauses about assembling one of the vehicles in the US. As the Roxor is not road legal, I cannot see it taking a huge chunk out of FCA’s sales because most buyers want to use a vehicle on a sealed road – for plantations, prairie or farm use, then maybe this cheaper vehicle will take some sales away, however it could take sales away from all of FCA’s competitors as well!
Jeep sales in the US are rising and I think that anyone wanting a Jeep will buy one and not a copy from another country.