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History of Jeep

Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich., Jeep is an iconic manufacturer of off-road vehicles. The company’s roots extend back to the Bantam Reconnaissance Car and World War II. The automaker met the government’s urgent request to design a working prototype for an all-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle.

The U.S. government designation for the legendary military vehicle contained the letters GP, which is an acronym for the term general purpose. According to one theory, soldiers transformed the letters into Jeep. During that era, Jeep was the name of an unusual character in the Popeye comic strip as well. The government awarded production contracts to Ford and Willys-Overland to meet the wartime demand for the reconnaissance vehicle. In order to demonstrate the vehicle’s abilities, a Willys-Overland test driver drove a Jeep up the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The versatile off-road vehicle was well-received when it was introduced to the civilian market after the war.

Over the ensuing decades, ownership of the Jeep brand has changed hands several times. Willys-Overland acquired the trademark rights to the name in 1943. Kaiser Motors purchased the company in 1950. American Motors Corporation (AMC) purchased the Jeep brand in 1963. French automaker Renault was a financial backer of AMC in the late 1970s. AMC set up the first joint venture on mainland China for the manufacture of automobiles in 1984. Chrysler acquired the assets of the financially troubled AMC in 1987. Daimler-Benz purchased Chrysler and later sold the company to private investors. As of 2012, Jeep is still a division of Chrysler, which is majority owned by Italian automaker Fiat.

In the 1960s, Jeep added the Wagoneer to its lineup to complement the CJ-series vehicles. While the CJ models were designed to mimic the off-road performance of its military ancestors, the Wagoneer was marketed toward active families. This vehicle was the forerunner of today’s SUV. Jeep has since introduced the Wrangler to replace the CJ-series and various SUV and crossover models, including the Cherokee, Patriot, Liberty, and Compass. While these vehicles add more style and comfort, they retain Jeep’s legendary off-road capabilities.

Jeep’s allure and mystique continue to grow. Motor Trend Magazine reports record-breaking sales for the Wrangler and a greater than 20 percent overall increase in sales for the company in 2011.