Carlos Tavares, the CEO of Jeep parent Stellantis, made a stunning comment referring to the request by the Cherokee Nation to take its name off the company’s sport utility vehicle. “At this stage, I don’t know if there is a real problem. But if there is one, well, of course we will solve it,” he said.
That implies it may not be a problem. It is. The use of Cherokee is American branding racism just as much as MLB’s Cleveland Indians, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs or what was until recently the NFL’s Washington Redskins, which finally renamed itself the Washington Football Team. Stellantis is apparently talking to the Cherokee Nation about changing the brand, instead of immediately doing so.
The Jeep Cherokee brand decision is about money and nothing else. Stellantis must discard hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of brand valuation built over the decades since the Cherokee was introduced in 1974. The Cherokee, with a base price of $26,555, and the Grand Cherokee, with a base price of $34,220, are powerful engines of Jeep’s profits. Renaming them will be expensive, as Jeep would take away a good deal of its brand identity.
Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, wrote last month, “I think we’re in a day and age in this country where it’s time for both corporations and team sports to retire the use of Native American names, images and mascots from their products, team jerseys and sports in general.”
Tavares cannot shift the blame or the decision elsewhere. The delay and the message it sends about profit over ethics belong entirely to him.