Mopar’s JK-8 kit is proving more popular than expected. According to Ward’s Auto, Mopar planned to sell 200-300 of the $5,499 kits, but was inundated with 400 initial orders from dealers alone. If you want to find out more about what goes in to the JK-8 conversion, check out Part 2 of our story on page 66. If all the demand only shows one thing, it is that Jeep enthusiasts are ready for a Jeep pickup.
Last December 16th, the very last U.S.-spec Ford Ranger rolled off the Twin Cities assembly line in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Ranger, which has been a cornerstone of Ford’s truck lineup since 1983, will be built and sold in other parts of the world, but not in the U.S. The last Ranger, a white SuperCab Sport model, will be joining the Orkin Pest Control fleet. As for the 125-acre plant, the oldest Ford currently operated at the time of closure; it is slated to be demolished.
Rod Hall Extends Record
Our friend and off-road racing legend Rod Hall, the most winning racer in Baja and the only man to compete in every Baja 1000 race since its inception in 1967, has racked up 21 class wins in the event’s 44 year history. This past November, Hall continued his consecutive Baja 1000 race streak by donning his racing suit and climbing in to the #862 Master Pull - Special Operations Warrior Foundation H1 Alpha. Congrats to Rod Hall, who also celebrated his 74th birthday and finished third in his class.
Questioning The Top: Jeep
We recently sat down with Mike Manley, President and CEO of the Jeep brand and asked him a few questions to gain some insight about the future of the brand and the direction it is headed.
FW: Jeep has seen incredible growth over the last few years, are there holes in the lineup you would like to see filled?
Manley: I think there is opportunity for Jeep in three or four areas. Something like the Grand Wagoneer three–row is a great opportunity for us. A smaller Jeep would be very attractive to international customers, as well as increasingly (attractive) here in the U.S. Liberty is a great niche product, but it is niche because of its capability. I think with changes there we can expand the reach. Finally, I think there is room for a pickup within the Jeep lineup.
FW: Mopar has had the JK-8 kit out for a while and at sema aev introduced the JK-based Brute Double Cab. Has there been enough interest in these products to justify development of a Wrangler-based pickup from the factory?
Manley: I think certainly there is enough interest as we look at it right now, for us to be able to go down that route. One of the things that we need to be careful about is where various products are within their lifecycle. As you know, the costs to develop that vehicle are fairly significant. Wrangler is a great bed upon which to build a pickup. As an organization and as we continue our recovery, we have to make sure we are putting the resources where we can get the most effective result for them. I have to say Wrangler pickup, in my view, or a pickup within the Jeep family is right up there. We continue to look at it and as you know I am a big fan of pickups.
FW: How would you respond to enthusiasts who say that the aftermarket is doing something that Jeep can’t or won’t do, which is creating a Jeep pickup, when what they really want is one from the factory?
Manley: I think it is a number of things. Firstly, it does indicate that there is a strong market out there, because as you know, to convert a Wrangler is not the most inexpensive thing. So for me that is an endorsement of a fan base out there for a Wrangler pickup. We track these types of aftermarket sales to make sure product decisions in the future are rooted in solid customer demand. Mopar did a great job and they worked closely with us on that and some may view the JK-8 a forerunner, but we’ll have to see.
FW: Ram is being positioned as the pickup brand in North America, yet it is Jeep that is the international brand that has the further reach. Is it possible Ram and Jeep would consider sharing platforms to reduce costs, possibly bringing a fullsize pickup back to Jeep and a midsized Dakota replacement to Ram?
Manley: Yeah, I think it is very possible. One of the things we’ve learned to do very effectively is to share technologies between the brands, but without diluting the brands. And that is the most important thing, both for Ram as well as for Jeep. But in terms of the technology, the platform, I think it is possible that is a route to delivering a Jeep pickup, but rest assured it would genuinely be a Jeep pickup.
FW: In recent history, Jeep had been one of the leading vehicle manufacturers to experiment with light-duty diesel in North American products, but with this last generation changeover, we have seen diesels go away. Will diesel-powered Jeeps be making a return to America?
Manley: Yeah, I think so. If you look at the various emissions standards in the U.S. and Europe, they are converging. And that convergence drives the same technical solutions. Now, what that would enable, is for us to very efficiently look at bringing diesel, which is installed in all of our European models, in to the U.S. So for the diesel fans out there, and I know there are many, the stars are beginning to align.
FW: Do you envision a time when you are playing in segments that don’t demand a Trail Rated badge?
Manley: You can always find an argument to say, for example a small Jeep SUV, wouldn’t need a Trail Rated version. But for us, the trail rating is a direct DNA tie back to Wrangler. Now obviously you won’t get the same capability from a small Jeep that you would from a large Jeep, but we would always want to see a Trail Rated version that would deploy more technology than the standard version. It would come at a slight price premium, but for those customers that want it, it should be there in the range. I think it is also important to continue to develop and keep Trail Rated meaning something.
FW: How do upcoming regulations impact the fundamentals of the Wrangler moving forward?
Manley: Wrangler is the 70-year icon that has led our brand and continues to be the cornerstone of the brand going forward. We know that within the Wrangler package it has to do certain things. Those challenges do get harder as we go forward, but the engineers have been able to solve each and every one of them and maintain the true essence of that vehicle and I am very confident they are going to continue to do that going forward. The most important thing for us is that Wrangler stands for something and it’s going to continue to stand for something in the marketplace.
FW: Is there a chance there would ever be a smaller version of a solid-axled Jeep, something more the size of the old CJs or XJ?
Manley: In today’s world it would be very difficult to create something smaller that still has Wrangler capability. We all know Wrangler has grown over time, but I think it would be very difficult on a small Jeep to get the level of capability our Wrangler customers would want.
FW: While the Wrangler has remained true to its roots Land Rover seems to be going a different direction with the future of the Defender. What do you think about the direction of the Land Rover DC100 concept as a replacement to the much-loved Defender?
Manley: You know, I think that the styling direction they want to go to in terms of Defender in particular is something that clearly they have thought long and hard about. All I have seen is a few concept pictures and we all know that concepts are not the reality, so I think on this one we will just have to wait and see.