A 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L climbs a rocky hill at the Chelsea Proving Grounds of Stellantis, Michigan.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

CHELSEA, Michigan – Jim Morrison smiles as he hears the piercing sound of rocks scratching the undercarriage of the jeep he’s driving.

“For us at Jeep, the most important thing is to prove our capabilities,” he says as he climbs a rocky hill on a test site for Stellantis, Jeep’s parent company. “It took us a little longer than anyone else to do that. It had to be a real Jeep first.”

The vehicle that Morrison, vice president of North American Jeep business, drives is the Grand Cherokee L 2021. It’s a new model for the brand that is slated to hit showrooms next week as Jeep’s first three-row vehicle in more than a decade .

By expanding the Grand Cherokee from a two-row to a three-row SUV, Jeep seeks to attract new buyers and retain existing owners who previously had to leave the brand if they wanted a larger vehicle. It’s a key growth area for the brand amid an influx of new competitors like the well-received Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade SUVs.

“It’ll really help us grow the top end of the business, which is good for bringing in new customers,” said Morrison, adding that the Grand Cherokee already has a customer retention rate of close to 50% for the company. “

Greater profits

According to Cox Automotive, the average price for the Grand Cherokee is always at the top of the mid-size SUV segment when compared to many three-row vehicles.

The addition of the Grand Cherokee L will drive the SUV’s average prices and profits even higher, according to Matt Degen, editor at the automotive data and insights company.

“You needed this vehicle,” he said. “Making the Grand Cherokee a three-row SUV is really a breeze for the brand.”

Jim Morrison, Vice President of Jeep North America, speaks during an event for the new Grand Cherokee L SUV in Detroit on June 11, 2021.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

The starting price for the Grand Cherokee L is between $ 37,000 and $ 66,000. The top price is around $ 9,000 versus a comparable two-row model of the current vehicle.

The average price a consumer paid for a Grand Cherokee last month was $ 45,694, according to Cox. That’s around $ 2,600 more than an average mid-range SUV.

1 million sales?

Prior to last year’s coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sales of Jeep had exceeded 900,000 SUVs for two consecutive years.

Degen believes domestic Jeep sales could exceed 1 million in the foreseeable future, with the additions of the Grand Cherokee L as well as the larger Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs slated to hit the market later this year.

Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, is significantly expanding Jeep production in the US The automaker spent $ 1.6 billion to convert a former engine complex into a complete assembly plant for the Grand Cherokee 2021. It was the city’s first new assembly plant in 30 years.

Workers at Stellantis’ Detroit Assembly plant producing the new Grand Cherokee L 2021, a new three-row SUV.

Michael Wayland | CNBC

The automaker is also building production of the Wagoneer models at a facility in suburban Detroit, bringing the number of Jeeps manufacturing plants in the U.S. to six.

“Jeep is one of those crown jewels among automobile brands,” said Degen. “The Jeep brand itself is really very important for Stellantis as a whole, especially for American sales.”

By the end of this year, Jeep is expected to expand its product range from six to nine vehicles, including the Grand Cherokee L and Wagoneer vehicles. This does not apply to new plug-in hybrid models such as the current Wrangler 4xe and the upcoming Grand Cherokee.

Grand Cherokee L.

The Grand Cherokee L 2021 is recognizable as a Jeep but has a new exterior design with horizontal LED daytime running lights, a wider seven-slot grille and other design elements that debuted on the company’s Grand Wagoneer SUV concept last year.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

Fiat Chrysler

The vehicle comes standard with a 3.6 liter V-6 engine developing 290 horsepower and 257 lb.-ft. of the torque. A 5.7 liter V-8 engine developing 357 horsepower and 390 foot pounds of torque will also be available.

The interior of the Grand Cherokee L features 8.4 “or 10.1” touchscreen displays and a 10.25 “frameless digital driver information screen behind the steering wheel. It is available in six and seven seat configurations.

The company also plans to offer hands-free driving technology in-vehicle for model year 2022 vehicles in late 2021.