Here's a fun prediction for you.
Here's a little reality check for the all-electric vehicle evangelists: Our immediate and foreseeable future is not pure battery power. It's hybridization.
Here in America, or even California specifically - the birthplace of the modern EV - the infrastructure is decades away from supporting even 40 or 50 percent of cars on the road needing to be charged. Of course, developing EVs now is essential, whether we ultimately replace gas stations with charging points or hydrogen pumps.
Right now, though, hybrid technology has matured, and drivers don't have to rely on chargers at home, at work, or on the road. What's surprising is how Jeep is impacting the market. Its first hybrid (a plug-in hybrid) is a runaway success.
Right now, the majority of the public generally thinks of hybrid cars in terms of the Toyota Prius, practical sedans, or smaller crossovers.
Those more interested in cars know that hybridization isn't just about making gas from the pump going further; it's also a way of rounding out and improving performance. Just look at Porsche's hybrid plans or any of the hybrid supercars breaking performance barriers.
Jeep, a brand not noted for taking big jumps ahead in technology, embraced hybridization recently. It had a surprising runaway success as it entered 2022. Amazingly, the Wrangler Unlimited 4xe was the best-selling hybrid vehicle in the United States during the Q1 period. Not the Prius, any other Toyota, or Hyundai for that matter. The best-selling hybrid vehicle in America was a Jeep. Let that sink in for a moment.
The Wrangler 4xe uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with two electric motors to generate its power while only consuming 49 MPGe (Miles Per Gallon equivalent). That sounds fine, but the EPA also gives it an estimated real MPG figure of 20 mpg, and its all-electric range is just 21 miles.
Up against the average hybrid car on sale, neither the MPG nor MPGe figures are great, but it's acceptable, and the electric-only range is useful.
What is excellent, though, are the power figures. The Jeep Wrangler 4xe makes 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, which is way more than the standard model's 285 hp and 260 lb-ft naturally aspirated V6. And it has the same 20 mpg combined fuel economy rating. That alone is turning a lot of existing Jeep owners' heads.
But it's not the whole story.
Jeep has also been aggressive about getting Wrangler 4xes on the road and making it the hot new ticket. Stellantis has been aggressively pushing attractive lease deals that can have people in a new 4xe for $265 per month with $3,985 due at the signing.
Then there's the positioning of the 4xe. It sits in the Wrangler range as top dog in specs and price before you get to the over-the-top V8-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392 for $77,095.
The 4xe hybrid powertrain produces almost 100 hp less but makes the same amount of torque, drinks six mpg less gas, and costs $23,270 less than the Rubicon 392. Admittedly, the Rubicon 392 is a spectacular toy, particularly in pink, but it's a lot of money for a lot of unnecessary.
Jeep's next move is another smart one. It used the same 2.0-liter turbo-four engine, augmented by two electric motors and a 400-volt battery pack to create the Grand Cherokee 4xe.
The reason it's a smart move is because it will cover Jeep's two best sellers - a niche off-roader and a larger, family-oriented, and day-to-day-friendly SUV. Surprisingly, New York is the state that buys the most Grand Cherokees, and there's no reason to think customers won't jump on the Grand Cherokee 4xe model like they have the Wrangler 4xe.
It is expensive at $57,700 for the standard model and $62,485 for the Trailhawk. But that won't stop the faithful and fashion followers.
Jeep aims to electrify its entire product lineup by 2025 and has already announced it will only be selling electrified models in Europe from now on.
To keep the ball rolling, Stellantis plans on adding 300 dedicated Jeep showrooms over the next two years to separate and improve the brand's definition. To that end, Jeep is doing the electrification of its models right - it couldn't just slap some batteries and motors on an existing model and call it done.
"It took us a little longer time to market with it because it needed to be a real Jeep first. It needed to have really good four-wheel-drive capability because you couldn't put the Jeep badge on it and have it be a really good plug-in hybrid without being a really good Jeep first," said Jeep boss Jim Morrison, of the Grand Cherokee 4xe.
Europe already has Renegade and Compass hybrids, and they are selling well. Still, Chief Executive Officer for Jeep - Stellantis, Christian Meunier, has said that the challenge is the cost for the entry-level segment in the US. At the end of last year, Meunier also said that Jeep had "decided not to bring the Renegade or the Compass to the US market."
With the 4xe drivetrain making good power and designed for off-road and on-road ability, the logical next step would be to create either a Gladiator or Wagoneer model for the US market.
We're now entering the world of speculation, but we would bet that one or the other will be announced in the not-too-distant future. Gladiator sales have been dropping in chunks year-on-year after its release, so a 4xe and a refresh would be a shot in the arm for the off-road truck. The Wagoneer is a new model, so we believe a 4xe will show up in the second half of this year or when it's eventually refreshed.
With the combined might of the Wrangler 4xe and the Grand Cherokee 4xe on sale, Jeep could make it to the third quarter topping the sales charts for individual models. With both the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee on sale later in the year, we might have the unexpected pleasure of Jeep not just having the best-selling hybrid, but being the best-selling hybrid brand for a while.
However, there are other factors in play that are hard to predict. There are significant bottlenecks in production throughout the industry at the moment, and many automakers have orders backed up. It's possible that the Jeep Wrangler 4xe becoming a best-selling hybrid is a bit of a fluke - after all, it is a niche model compared to the RAV4 hybrid.
However, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is in the mass market, and we're heading into the second half of the year. If the Wrangler 4xe keeps sales up until the Grand Cherokee 4xe lands, Jeep could confuse a lot of analysts and quieten a lot of critics while setting itself up for ongoing success as the automotive landscape shifts.