If 2013 was the year of the pickup, 2014 belongs to Jeeps. No other brand has gained so much traction in the U.S. this year.
From January through July, Fiat (F:IM) sold 392,390 Jeeps in North America, 44 percent more than in the same period last year. That was enough to rocket the American brand past Kia (000270:KS) and Dodge, its corporate cousin, to the No. 7 spot on a ranking by volume. At the moment, Jeep is right behind Hyundai(005380:KS) in terms of total vehicles sold.
Here’s a look at how that momentum stacks up against the other fastest-moving car badges.
Here’s the amazing thing: If all the car companies were to maintain this year’s pace (granted, a huge “if”), Jeep would become the best-selling vehicle brand in North America sometime in 2018, blowing past Ford (F) and its fleet of aluminum F150s.
That probably won’t happen, for plenty of reasons. Chief among them: Jeep’s recent sales boom has been spurred by new products. In particular, the new Cherokee made its debut in October and in a few short months has become almost as popular as its grander sibling.
There’s a limit to how much product proliferation a niche brand such as Jeep can pull off. Ford can do a hatchback or a coupe; Jeep can’t. (Though a Jeep pickup or a refreshed, wood-plated Wagoneer would probably do just fine.) That said, Fiat has one more gear in its Jeep acceleration plan: the Renegade model that it unveiled in Geneva this spring. Purists note that the vehicle will be more of a big Fiat than a baby Jeep—it’s being built in southern Italy—but that famous grill is still bolted on the front and buyers can get a vintage military gas can to strap on the back.
The Renegade will roll into U.S. dealerships by the end of this year. If it manages to win over U.S. buyers, it could tow the brand right into Honda (HMC) territory.
Stockis an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter:@kyl