SUVs and crossovers wouldn't be around if it wasn't for one vehicle. Introduced in 1941, this model is a veteran of the second world war, inspired the British and the Japanese to build their off-roaders, and paved the way for two of the world's biggest segments. We're talking about the Willys Jeep.
The history of the Willys Jeep has been told countless times. It was developed to move troops, equipment, and ammunition over rough terrain and hostile territory during World War 2. When the war ended in 1945, these military vehicles were soon adapted for civilian life. Dubbed the CJ, it stood for Civilian Jeep and became the first mass-produced four-wheel-drive vehicle. It also spawned several body styles, namely a pick-up, a wagon (which became the template of all SUVs), and even a roadster.
But it was during the '60s that saw radical changes in Jeep. While the CJ was still around, the brand rolled out the Wagoneer, Commando, and Gladiator. Some argue that the Wagoneer inadvertently kicked off the idea of a luxury 4x4, a full 18 years before the arrival of the Range Rover. Meanwhile, the Commando is said to be the first compact SUV from the brand, while the Gladiator became one of their labels for pick-ups.
The '70s and early '80s were a relatively quiet time for Jeep. At the time, the automaker focused on tweaking and updating their product range from the '60s. But in 1984, another revolutionary product from Jeep rolled out. It was the first Cherokee, and it was the first all-new Jeep in nearly 20 years. The launch of that model led other American automakers to create five-door SUVs. As a response to the Cherokee's popularity, Chevrolet brought out the S-10 Blazer with extra doors in 1990, and Ford launched the Explorer that same year. It was also in the '80s when Jeep renamed the CJ to the Wrangler.
Hot on the heels of the Cherokee's success, Jeep aimed for a more upmarket audience in the early '90s. The result of that is the Grand Cherokee, and it's been one of the brand's top-selling models since. Jeep also expanded its horizons by offering the Wrangler, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee in Europe and Asia. By the new millennium, Jeep redesigned the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, but more was to come in the following years.
Realizing that they can't rely on just three models, Jeep underwent a major product range expansion. The 2000s saw the introduction of the Patriot, Compass, and the revival of the Commander. Fast forward to today, and the brand now has several models to offer. These are the Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited, Renegade, Commander, Grand Commander, Grand Cherokee, Grand Cherokee L, and Gladiator.
It's amazing to see Jeep's evolution over the past 80 years. From building niche vehicles after the war, the brand is now one of the most profitable members of Stellantis. By keeping up with the times, Jeep continues to thrive worldwide, especially now that more people prefer SUVs and crossovers over hatchbacks and sedans. With the way things are going, we wouldn't be surprised if they'll be around for another 80 years.