Back in 2003, while planning for the 2004 model year, Jeep needed to find an edge over all other automakers. So what do they do? They come up with a new badge that extols the virtue of a 4x4. Something to signify that your SUV is better than all the other SUVs on the road. On the road. A place where most people could care less whether you can go off-road.
You may think the people on the off-road trails might care that your Jeep is "Trail Rated." But they don't, unless you're doing Camp Jeep or the Jeep Jamboree. But go to the Rubicon with your new Grand Cherokee, and all those people with modified Wranglers, CJ5s, CJ7s, and so on and they really could care less about you talking how your Jeep is just as good as theirs because it's "Trail Rated."
Now, you also may think that Jeep came up with "Trail Rated" because the Compass and Liberty were coming soon, and they wouldn't be thought of as "real" Jeeps because they were on the same platform as a Mitsubishi Lancer. However, I looked into that possibility, but those two didn't come out until 2006, so it wasn't a ploy to upsell buyers into the Liberty or Grand Cherokee if they really needed something that could go off-road. I even thought of the Grand Cherokee SRT8, but that didn't come out until 2006 as well. So clearly the "Trail Rated" bit was due to marketing lingo.
We could dismiss this as a silly plan by the marketing department to wanted to sell more Jeeps by informing us about some mumbo-jumbo internal off-road standards. Instead, the press release made sure to state that the program was supported by the Nevada Automotive Test Center, which had experience in "off-road vehicle testing" and "creation of standards for the U.S. military."
If you're reading them in 2003, "Trail Rated" doesn't mean much other than Jeep deeming your vehicle capable of going on off-road trails. Even though few customers take them there. For a company that built their reputation on off-road vehicles, the fact that they needed to demonstrate whether their products are capable of doing the off-road with a badge probably meant Jeep needed to give a badge supplier some business and "Trail Rated" was something they ended coming up with.
But we know what happened two years after the introduction of "Trail Rated." We were given the Patriot, Compass, and the SRT Grand Cherokee, all of them vehicles with little off-road pretensions, except without the right off-road packages on the Patriot. So Jeep really did have a plan all along. It was to prepare us for the fact that soon their entire 4x4 line-up might not be capable. Or even 4x4s. It was to say "We still have products that are 'Trail Rated'" to any naysayers of Jeep's direction at the time.
So "Trail Rated" was a preemptive strike on critics. Well played, Jeep.
Press release here.