Brad Hits the Trail with the Head of Jeep North America

What's In Store for the Future of Jeep?

Join Me As I Hit the Trail With the Head of Jeep North America! 

We had a blast out in Moab, Utah, for Easter Jeep Safari 2023! While we were out there, we also had a very special opportunity to hop in a Jeep with Jim Morrison, the head of Jeep North America, ask him some questions, and find out about what’s in store for the future of Jeep.   

We had a great conversation and I wanted to share it with you, so read on and find out what we talked about while driving down the trail in Moab.   

(The interview below was transcribed from the TrailRecon YouTube video. It has been edited for clarity.)

The Interview

BRAD: What is going on guys! We're here in Moab and we just hopped into a brand-new 20th anniversary Jeep Rubicon and I'm here with Jim Morrison the head of Jeep brand in North America.   

JIM: Brad, this is pretty cool place to be.   

BRAD: It is an amazing place to be! This is beautiful! We are at the trailhead of Wipeout Hill and we're going to go putt putt around a little bit, and Jim has agreed to allow me to ask him a few questions. Some that you guys have been wanting to know, and some that I'm kind of curious about.     

So yeah, Jim let's hit the trail.   

JIM: Good stuff.   

BRAD: Now yesterday we were out driving some of the old Heritage Concepts. And we were out on Porcupine Hill, and you were out there wheeling with your sons. How was that?   

JIM: It was good, we had a great day. You know there's really no bad day in in Moab, and yesterday was one of the best. You know we got to drive some of our old concepts and really talk to some of the industry experts—and you're one of them—and it's a great way to really just talk Jeep and do what we like to do, which is drive some challenging trails.   

I hadn't done Porcupine before, and it was pretty good. We had to pay attention and you know nothing really too crazy or dangerous, but it was fun. And those concepts… they work…they’re real Jeeps and they did a great job out there.   

BRAD: They did a great job out here. Do you have a favorite trail out here in Moab?   

JIM: You know…that's a hard question, and I think I answer that question differently every time. I really like Poison Spider but the problem is if you do it too many times, then you're missing so much.

Jim Morrison, head of Jeep North America

I went out and did Hell's Revenge with the boys [referring to his two sons] and did the stair step. I hadn't done that yet so that was pretty good. Actually, the drop-in next to the rock and the ledge…was actually really hard for a bypass. It was like this far away [Jim holds his thumb and index finger close together] from the edge on this side and that far away from the drop on that side, so it was it was a pretty tight squeeze as we were dropping down but it was a lot of fun.   

I think there's so much to know and to love here in Moab, you kind of get spoiled...there's always so much beauty around every next turn. For me, it's really just a chance to keep exploring all the trails. So that was a long way to answer.   

BRAD: Well, you know I was talking to your sons, because they were out there driving, and they said they've been coming out here with you for like 10 years, and they both said their favorite trail is Cliffhanger.   

JIM: [Laughing] Yes…they like freaking me out. I don't really like heights, and they'll stand on the edge and jump back and forth. And I'm like, “oh come on you're…killing me.” I don't get like getting within 10 feet of the edge, and they're right there…it's crazy. But that's a really good one too.   

BRAD: So, let's dive into some good Jeep questions but first, how did you get started in the automotive industry and how did you come to be the head of Jeep?   

JIM: That's a fun question. My first job in the automotive business was back in the 80s at a Chrysler dealership where I had a summer job in the parts department, and I just fell in love with cars. My dad always liked cars, we always talked about cars, and you know it was natural.   

I [worked] in the parts department for a few years, and then one year I just got lucky. When I went for the third year in a row, one of the sales people in that dealership was off sick. So, the dealer said, “do you want to sell cars for me?” That way he [didn’t] have to lay someone off.   

I had so much fun selling cars that I just stuck with it. I was going to be a dentist and I changed course, so I turned my biology degree into a business degree, and then did an MBA, and then kept going with the automotive industry.   

BRAD: Right on, that's awesome.   

That's a big responsibility…there's so much heritage with Jeep. How big of a responsibility is that to maintain that heritage with the brand?   

JIM: It's a huge responsibility and we like to say that we're the temporary curators of the brand. Since 1941, there [have] been different companies that have managed Jeep, and I think it's our responsibility to listen to our customers and do what's right for the brand.   

We try to use four words as our guiding principle: freedom, adventure, authenticity, and fashion. And if…everything we do lines up to those four [principles] then we're okay. And it's tough with all the government changing regulations and different people [giving] input on what the product needs to be, but if we're aligned with what our customers want and true to what the brand is, I think we'll keep steering it the right direction.   

BRAD: If somebody [has] a passion about vehicles and they want to get into the automotive industry what would be your recommendation for them?   

JIM: You know, and I’m not just saying this because it was the way I started, but I think understanding the retail part of the world and working in a dealership…is a really good start because that's really where the customer connections happen, and understanding how that works gives you a real leg up. And then you can decide what to do. You can stay in the retail world because there's lots of opportunities in the retail dealer channel. Or you can go to the factory world and then have a really good understanding of what our customers are looking for, and I think, for me, that's probably the biggest leg up.   

And I would say the other piece of it is don't be worried about doing some extra hard work…because sometimes that's what's needed. My dad used to call it sweat equity and it still works even today. You just have to work, understand your customer, [and] do what's right—it works.   

BRAD: Okay Jim, this is a question that I get comments about all the time, having been a Jeep Gladiator owner. I love that truck, it's an amazing Jeep. In the next three years do you think we're going to see a new a new engine option in that guy?

TrailRecon's red Jeep Gladiator in Anza Borrego

JIM: You know…well, how do I say this really getting fired? We have told the world that we're going to have every one of our vehicles with an electrified option by 2025. And [the Jeep Gladiator] doesn't have one today, so that's an easy one…it's going to get some sort of electrification. We haven't gone beyond that, and that's pretty much what we're working on for Gladiator.    

BRAD: All right, fair enough.   

Okay Jim, so there are thousands of jeeps here this week in Moab. What do you think is Jeep Wrangler's biggest selling point?   

JIM: You know, it's a community. It's 82 years of history and community, and you see it out here. I mean this is the 57th Easter Jeep Safari and everywhere you go there's a Jeep. Everywhere you look it's different. Every Jeeper you talk to, [their Jeep] is modified or lifted, or [it’s] part of the customer's life. And that's really what is different about Jeep—it’s the community, it’s the spirit of Jeep that goes into the vehicle…and that's really what's special here.   

Jeeps on a trail in Moab, Utah, during Easter Jeep Safari 2023

BRAD: I agree. There are a lot of off-roaders and they want to take [their Jeeps] out and be hard with them, and they’re rugged vehicles, but they are also a daily driver. How do you balance keeping [Jeeps] nice and comfortable as a daily driver but also able to hit a trail like this?   

JIM: You know that's probably the longest and hardest debate that we have with the engineering team and design offices as we talk to our customers and listen to what they're looking for. And you'll see some of that here later this week when we introduce the new 2024 [Wrangler] because we understand that customers are looking for some of the things that typically haven't been in Wranglers.   

I mean we had a five-year conversation about power mirrors before we put power mirrors on this thing. And now the conversation is about bigger radios, and more power, and accoutrements inside. Some might think Jeep is going soft [but] we'll only add stuff if it makes the Jeep more capable. So if you think about it from that perspective, you'll see that we're going to add some more of that stuff here to the 2024 [Wrangler].   

BRAD: Right on, I can't wait. We’ve only got a couple more days for that big announcement so I'm excited to see what the new one's going to look like.   

JIM: Yeah, it's going to be fun.   

BRAD: Okay, with the move to electrification, the 4xe seems to be a really popular model of the Jeep hybrid. Is the hybrid going to be something you're going to continue to evolve, or do you think that's going to go away for a full electrification? 

JIM: You know, I think both. The nice thing is we continue to evolve every year…the 4xe, I’m happy to report, is America's number one selling plug-in. The competition just plain didn't see that happening. Because it's just a really good Jeep first, and it's got a lot going for it. We're going to continue to refine it and make it better and you'll see some of that here in a couple days.   

I think one of the things for me that's actually the most exciting part of this transformation is the world is going more electric and, the way I like to say it is, Jeep is becoming more capable. It just happens to be electric, which is nice because that's what the government wants us to do too. But we're always evolving our 4x4 technology to be the best, and our Jeep customers expect it to be. And the 4x4 with electrification…we've been saying 4xe is the new 4x4. And it really is.   

We were out earlier this week and we were over on Poison Spider [at The Wall, which is] 50-55 degrees straight up, and the Jeep I was driving was climbing right up in complete quiet. It's amazing! But…this 392 with 470-pound feet of torque is the same as the 4xe I was driving, but what it can't do is sit at more than 35 degrees for more than five seconds because it's got to move the oil around. So, the electrics [Jeeps] were just going in and would sit, and get a little bit of momentum and go up the rock. The electrics were doing it the best, with electric and the instant torque…it’s incredible.   

I had some neat conversations with the customers that were watching me wheel my 4xe. And you've seen it, it's not a normal 4xe…it’s running on 37s and a two-and-a-half-inch lift, and it's got the fender flares and a winch, and it's a fantastic vehicle. And that’s my pick. I can drive whatever I want and that's my pick. I love it because you can feel the electric instantly on the rocks. And…a customer walked over and said he watched how easily it went up the switchback on Poison Spider, the waterfall I think they call it, and he's like, “it was amazing, it just walked up.”   

But he asked how I feel the power getting to the ground if I don't hear the engine, and I said it's actually it's easier. Because I had the top off and the windows down, and you can just hear the tires because there's no sound. You just hear the electric and you can hear the tires chirping on the on the rock. And he's like you know what, that's really cool.   

He said he was going to get one, so we'll see. And he didn't know who I was, but that's what I love most about Moab… we just show up as regular people and we're part of the community.   

BRAD: Yeah, that's what I love. I mean we come out here and we just go wheeling.    

JIM: You're more recognizable, though. We were actually coming down off the trail yesterday and they’re like “TrailRecon!”    

BRAD: We said hello to a lot of people over the last few days, it's been great. It's always good to see folks out here just having fun.   

Okay, next question. So, talking about the 4xe and the future of electric vehicles, what excites you the most about electrification?   

JIM: You know I think the combination of what we were just talking about and then if you get in Magneto that is what really excites me. Because we've done three versions of Magneto…I have probably got more miles on that thing off-road than anybody in our company, and it just makes you smile. We keep unleashing more power and more capability with it. And the 4xe is really good, I love wheeling it in electric, but it will run out after a day on the trail, you can't do three days, so that we will do more and more [referring to increasing electric range and capability].  

Magneto 3.0, Jeep's 2023 all electric concept Jeep Wrangler

BRAD: And I can't wait for that…I can't wait to drive it. I drove 1.0, 2.0, and you guys put more horsepower in 3.0…I can't wait to behind the wheel.   

So, somebody that is getting ready to buy their first Jeep—I get this question a lot but I'm curious from your perspective—they're new to off-roading, they're new to the Jeep world. What advice would you give them in buying a new Jeep?   

JIM: Pick the jeep that fits in your budget. We've got everything from a Willys Wheeler, an entry level wheeler we've made even more capable for 2024, but find the vehicle that's in your budget. And then go to a Jeep Jamboree, connect with one of your friends that understand what the Jeep is all about.   

Dealerships have some courses as well that train customers…what do you do with four low, what does a locker do. We've got some great instructional videos on as well, and then really just understand what [your] Jeep can do and then find a trail that's near you.   

We've got some Badge of Honor trails all across America and they're very well documented in a Badge of Honor app. You can figure out which one's close to you go do that trail…the sky's limit from there. Next thing you know, you'll be signing up for Easter Jeep Safari and going every year just like me.   

BRAD: What's been exciting for me is Regena wants to get some of the Badges of Honor. We were at Top of the World and she checked in [to the Jeep Badge of Honor app] so she got her badge while we're out here this week.   

Looking forward with the Jeep Wrangler in the next coming years, what do you think some of the biggest challenges are going to be with this model?   

JIM: You know I think the biggest challenge we have is sticking true to its form, and I think the world wants to be an egg with all the regulations that are coming our way and obviously Wrangler needs to be a box, and it’s always going to be a box.   

But the nice thing is we've got a really strong company with Stelantis. It's got great infrastructure and options available with electrification so we're going to be able to give our customers lots of options here for the future. So, the company is giving us some good flexibility to be able to make sure that Wrangler is still a Wrangler.   

BRAD: Right on, that's awesome.   

Okay Jim, so there are a lot of organizations out there that are trying to restrict access to trails. How do you and Jeep approach that as an organization?   

JIM: You know, one of the things that we like to do, and like we did here on Saturday, is we stay involved with trail maintenance and work with Tread Lightly and the different groups. We went out with the Red Rock Four Wheelers here on Saturday and did some trail maintenance with the Bureau of Land Management. We show that we care and show up with 50 people and do work for a few hours. We were actually making fences, keeping everybody on the trail and respectful of the proper places to wheel.   

And we're going to continue to do that and we're going to continue to ask our customers to do the same thing. I think that's really important and for the most part our customers understand the connection to nature is important., and that's the guiding principle for all of us. And that's good because we want to make sure that everybody's got a chance to get out and see the beauty of what we're looking at here right now [Jim points out the window], and in a way that no one else can and that's driving there in a jeep.   

BRAD: We're driving past the 2023 concepts right now guys…they’re some gorgeous Jeeps.   

Collage of Jeep's 2023 concept vehicles

JIM: Yeah, we always say that this year is the best, but I think this year is the best.   

BRAD: They're beautiful!   

JIM: What’s your favorite?   

BRAD: It's the ‘78 Cherokee. I’ve got a ‘74 at home.   

JIM: That's my favorite too.   

BRAD: Okay, a personal question. If you could be out here at Moab and you could spend the day wheeling with somebody alive or past, who would that be and why?   

JIM: You know this is going to sound really hokey but I actually did it this week, and I do it almost every year, but I did one or two trails with my wife and then five trails with my boys. We actually called my dad…I talked to my mom and then tried to get my dad on the phone. I thought it would be cool that we were talking to him because we were driving one of those concepts.   

One of the things I’ve got to thank Jeep for is putting me in a situation where I can do that, and I'm very thankful for that. It's really just a great illustration…you see young kids on the trail today…it's really it's a family, the Jeep family.   

BRAD: I've made so many amazing memories having my kids and my wife out in places like this and I think I think everybody should experience it. You just have to disconnect and come out here, have an adventure and have some fun.   

JIM: That's what it's all about.   

BRAD: Jim, I know you’ve got a busy day planned…thank you so much for driving on this trail and answering some of these great questions. I really appreciate it!   

JIM: Thank you.   

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