American brand is in the process of developing its new Wrangler off-roader.
The rugged Jeep Wrangler could soon have a green tinge.
The American SUV brand Jeep is looking to make its most iconic model more suited to modern motoring with a lighter body and more economical engines aimed at reducing fuel use.
Jeep is also seriously considering adding a ute, or pick-up, to the range, something that could see it challenge for a spot among the top 10 selling brands in Australia.
Speaking at the 2014 Geneva motor show Jeep’s global boss, Mike Manley, said the company was working on the all-new 2017 Wrangler that will bring significant fuel savings in an effort to make it more relevant to increasingly cost and environmentally-conscious buyers.
“The vehicle has to improve its fuel economy, not just for next generation but also going into the future,” said Manley. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of taking weight out of that vehicle. Even though it’s hard to, we need to work on the aero[dynamics], we need to continue to work on the transmission and powertrains without damaging its capability and that’s the balance, that’s what we’re working on right now.”
Manley said that while the Wrangler – which is acknowledged as one of the most capable off-road vehicles ever with a history that dates back to the Willys Jeeps in World War 2 – is a “a difficult vehicle to work with” because of that heritage and the huge expectations.
But he said it would not venture radically from the trademark styling, which in many ways defines Jeep.
“Certainly from a styling perspective there will be a very strong tie to the Wrangler that we have known for years,” said Manley.
He said Jeep had looked at using more aluminium but it was difficult given the off-road expectations of the Wrangler.
“It’s very, very hard on a Wrangler to make all of the body aluminium because of the off-road duty cycle that some of the guys take it through.
“We’ve got to take weight out of it, because it’s a very heavy vehicle. High strength steel, other materials.”
Manley said that despite the push from most modern SUVs – including many Jeeps – to use a car-like monocoque construction the Wrangler would continue as a more traditional, truck-like body on frame.
That would help in adding a rugged ute body style so it could compete with the likes of the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Volskwagen Amarok and Holden Colorado.
Manley didn’t quite confirm a ute version of the Wrangler was in the pipeline, instead alluding to a major announcement about the brand’s five-year plan, due in May.
“You’ll have to wait till May,” he said.
He said a ute – which has been rumoured for years and even shown in 2005 as the Gladiator concept car - would add significant volume in markets like Australia, which could be enough to make Jeep one of the best selling brands.
“I’d love to be a top 10 brand,” said Manley. “One of the aspirations I’ve had is always wanted to be the number one SUV brand and if the SUV segments are large enough in any country then naturally I could be a top 10 brand.”
However, Australia won’t get all the new Jeeps planned for future, with a seven-seat model – possibly to be called Grand Wagoneer – unlikely to be produced with the steering wheel on the right.
“It’s very, very unlikely to have right-hand-drive,” said Manley, citing relatively low volumes for such vehicles in right-drive markets around the world. “Because volume will not pay for the adaptation of that vehicle, but it’s not ruled out.
“Recently we’ve found more cost-effective ways of making right-hand-drive conversion.”