It all started in 1993 – before the modern Chrysler was fully formed – when automotive designers Larry Shinoda, Giorgetto Giugiaro, and Alain Clenet were tasked with the opportunity to design an SUV that could compete against the popular Ford Explorer, as well as phase out the Jeep Cherokee. Their design definitely rose to the challenge against its Ford competitor, but instead of phasing out the Cherokee, the market strongly welcomed both models uniquely, as Jeep recorded high sales for both in the following year. Codenamed “ZJ” in succession of the Cherokee’s “XJ”, the ultimate goal for this talented group of designers was to create an SUV that was bigger, better, and more luxurious than the Cherokee yet still be able to combine Jeeps well sought out off-road capabilities with comfort elements.
The finished model of the first Grand Cherokee – the 1993 ZJ – debuted January 7th of 1992 with smashing success. There was quite the celebration in the Jefferson North Assembly Plant as Chrysler President Bob Lutz took the wheel and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young rode shotgun in a fresh-off-the-line, brilliant red Grand Cherokee, through a roaring crowd and out of the building. From there they drove off in the company of more then 7 police escorts, looking very much like the cavalry, down Jefferson Avenue to the North American International Auto show hosted at the Cobo Center, where Mr. Lutz drove up a flight of stairs, up a ramp, and through a plate glass window – on purpose.
The debut of the 1993 ZJ will forever be considered one of the most memorable model introductions in history. So memorable in fact, that at the 2006 North American International Auto Show, the same auto show where the Grand Cherokees’ introduction took place, the 2007 Jeep Wrangler was announced in the same bold fashion, recreating the timeless moment in automobile history.
The launch of the new SUV was such a success that they surpassed 200,000 unit sales only one year after its release. By May of 1994 sales were through the roof and the annual Grand Cherokee production capacity was raised to 267,000 units, and as its popularity continued to grow it was raised once again to a 315,000 unit capacity, becoming over the years one of the most popular SUVs’ on the market.
Jeep has done marvelous work on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, beautifully developing the model over four generations with twenty different model changes since its’ 1992 conception. With more and more exciting options and alterations with each new model, the Grand Cherokee is certain to continue its’ smashing success.