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SEATTLE - If you look up the term "sport utility vehicle" in your handy World Book Encyclopedia, don’t be surprised to find a picture of a Word War II Jeep prominently displayed at the top of the page.
Sure, the burbs are now crawling with sport-utes capable of satisfying the diverse needs of every sporting cult and off-road religion imaginable. We have everything from the mini-sport-utes such as the Chevy Tracker, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, to the big luxo-barges such as the Range Rover, Lincoln Navigator and GMC Denali.
Surprisingly, what started out as a simple, yet durable conveyance that could take you beyond the end of the trail - a Jeep - wound up trailblazing a market segment that has been dividing and multiplying like an amoeba run amok. The number of sport-utility nameplates totals at least three dozen, with perhaps a dozen more on the way - including new models from Ford, Mazda, BMW, Cadillac, Volkswagen, Porsche and Nissan.
Jeep launched SUV craze
While today’s teens probably think it was always like this, it wasn’t. In fact, in 1984, just a scant 15 model-years ago, Jeep (then part of American Motors) introduced the very first compact four-door Cherokee. The only other four-door sport-utes available at the time were big brutes, such as the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Chevy/GMC Suburban, Toyota Land Cruiser and International Travel-all (remember that one?).
If you happened to come from a dyed-in-the-wool Jeep family, your dad may have driven a Grand Wagoneer or CJ5, while your granddad drove a Willys Jeep - in WWII.
Frankly, it wasn’t until the arrival of the first Jeep Grand Cherokee in 1992 (a Chrysler brand by this time), that the carlike sport-utility market really started growing in earnest.
So what’s a company such as Jeep going to do, with everybody and their brother-in-law trying to push you off the trail and take away your business?