Conversations in Management: Jeep

This vehicle is going to be absolutely outstanding. I believe this unit will make history!

Major Herbert J. Lawes

JeepIf you like the grill and flat hood on the Jeep, thank Ford.  If you like the design, thank Karl Probst of American Bantam. And if you like the total package, thank Willys-Overland—the great granddaddy of Fiat’s Jeep® brand.

It all began in July of 1940 when the Army figured it would take more than mule-power to fight the next war. (At war’s start there were 16,500 horses and 3,500 mules in active service.) To that end, they sent specifications for a new ¼ ton utility vehicle to 70 manufacturers. Bids were due in 11 days and a working prototype was to be available for testing 49 days later. Only Bantam met the deadline. They called their new vehicle the “Blitz Buggy,” but when it rolled onto the Army vehicle test center at Camp Holabird, the mechanics called it a “jeep.” After testing, folks like Major Lawes called it “absolutely outstanding.” But there were problems. Chief among them was the belief that Bantam didn’t have the capacity to produce the vehicle in sufficient numbers. Also troubling was the fact that the company was barely solvent. In its 11-year history, it had already gone through one bankruptcy and cynics assumed an obscure clause in the incorporation papers stipulated that they’d never make a profit. With the drums of war sounding louder, The Army gave Bantam’s plans to Willys and Ford (over Bantam’s stiff objections). Not surprisingly, they delivered prototypes that looked like the Bantam. Willys, however, had made substantial mechanical improvements not the least of which was their powerful “Go Devil” engine. The Army combined the best of the three and awarded the contract to Willys. Their model was called the “Quad” but when demonstrating it for the press in February 1941, they used the name the mechanics did—jeep. The name appeared in the papers and pretty much settled the name issue. By July, Willys was in full production and under a licensing agreement was joined by Ford four months later. Combined they built over 600,000 jeeps and supplied every branch of the US military as well as the British, Chinese and Soviet armies.

That’s all well and good, but what about that fanciful name? Why jeep? Some claim that cartoon-crazed GIs took the name from Eugene the Jeep in the Popeye comic strip. If you believe that, you don’t know much about GIs and you should be glad Bullwinkle hadn’t made it on the scene yet. Besides, linguistically challenged soldiers had been calling everything a jeep for a long time—staff cars, trucks, tanks, new recruits and even B-17s! The only thing we know for sure is that jeep became Jeep® when in the major marketing coup of the 20th century, Willys registered the name.

Crazy as the name might be, something remarkable happened with the jeep that seems inconceivable today. It went from a general idea to a history-making vehicle in just a matter of months. Only eight months elapsed from the Army’s request for bids to initial production. What’s more, the design was so successful that you can buy the latest version at your Jeep® dealer today. It’s so successful, in fact, that seventy-four years later, Fiat is positioning it as their “lead global brand.” So why do projects today cost more, take longer and deliver less than promised? Probably because we have a subtle fear that we might not be getting everything that’s conceivably possible in our products. As a result, we keep adding complexity until we end up with TV remotes that take a Ph.D. to master. The jeep succeeded because it was basic and did what it was designed to do. So no matter what your project or endeavor, keep it simple and then just do the thing—don’t over-think it. It’s the best way to end up with a jeep of your very own.  —Ebert®

1 Comment

Leave a Reply