The Jeep Liberty, a compact crossover SUV, was a replacement for the Jeep Cherokee. First released in 1974, the Cherokee was always very popular. While the nameplate continued on the upscale Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep tried to go in a new direction and introduced an SUV for the average driver. Jeep purists hated it and so did most critics. So, now they’ve brought back the nameplate to replace the Liberty, but should the name, which references a Native American tribe, have stayed dead? Is it politically incorrect and insensitive?
Auto manufacturers have long used Native American names and grotesque caricatures to sell cars. Perhaps the most glaring example is Pontiac. Their brochures used to have cartoon Indians dancing in canoes to “demonstrate” how fast their cars were. They also even put an image of Chief Pontiac as a hood ornament.
Jeep too is no stranger to abusing Native American imagery. What’s far worse than using the name Cherokee was naming a car the Jeep Comanche Eliminator, which was released in the late 1980s! Yikes.
Even worse offenders than car manufacturers have been sport teams with names like the “Redskins” and the “Savages,” accompanied by fans in “tribal” makeup and offensive mascots. While some teams like the Washington Redskins have held out, most of these teams have changed their names and abandoned their mascots. Oh the times they are a changing.
So what’s going on with Jeep then? It seems that, when looking at press materials for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, you can see that things have changed. There are no explicit Native American references or broad caricatures and stereotypes.
So with risking accusations of racism and political incorrectness, why would Jeep return to the Cherokee, which carries an estimate cost of $50 million just to revive the name? It comes down to the difficulty and cost of choosing a new nameplate. With a new name, it requires legal and trademark fees and focus groups, which can be very sensitive.
There are also fewer viable names that manage to stick out while not causing offense. This is why you see more cars with names that just seem to be nonsense like the Volkswagen Tiguan or random letters like the MKX. Jeep went back to a nameplate they know was successful, and thankfully, they aren’t drawing any extra attention to the origins of that name.