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August 2013 4Word - Editorial

Posted in News on July 27, 2013
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I recently read an interesting blog by Bill Wilson remembering the International Scout. The last paragraph read:

"Throughout the 1970s, International Harvester repackaged the Scout countless times, in an attempt to compete successfully with the far more popular Jeep. But, in the end it was a lost cause, and 1980 was the last model year for the scrappy but ultimately unsuccessful Scout. It's just as well. In some fields of human endeavor, there's only room for one king on the throne."

Scouts were outstanding American 4x4s that were doomed by corporate politics and, as Bill said, Jeep's popularity. Today, there's not only room for other royalty in the utility 4x4-vehicle universe, it may be time for a new king. The faithful Jeep aficionados watch with worry as Jeep redesigns the Wrangler, the only vehicle that can trace its genealogy directly back to the scrappy Willys and Ford WWII flatfenders.

The Wrangler's solid (straight) axle will be replaced with an independent suspension. This isn't all bad—think Ford Raptor. The Arctic Cat Wildcat 4x4 side-by-side achieves 18 inches of travel with its independent suspension! The problem here is that members of Jeep management, according to statements they've made, think they already have an independent suspension that will work on the new Wrangler. Where is that suspension now? The Grand Cherokee, Jeep's flagship vehicle (in Fiat's eyes), has an independent suspension that works well on the Grand Cherokee but doesn't have enough travel for a Wrangler. If Jeep installs that suspension on the Wrangler, it will fail.

With its overseas ownership, Chrysler is now a foreign car company building vehicles in North America, the same as Toyota, Honda, Subaru, etc. As such, top management personnel, through no fault of their own, don't know what the Jeep brand means to the faithful who have stuck by the marque for decades, whether the Jeeps were built by Ford, Willys, Kaiser, AMC, or the former Chrysler. There are good engineers and others at Jeep who are trying hard to make the next Wrangler a competent vehicle. Unfortunately, management that seems to think "good enough" is fine and the ever-present bean counters make those people's job difficult.

Please, Jeep, prove me wrong. Listen to those who know inside your corporation and bring us a new Wrangler better than what went before. As IFS is already decided on, design a long-travel IFS with strong axles, tie rods, and a reliable steering rack. Don't let the new Wrangler be an unreliable electronics-laden mess. Simplify. Do this, and the faithful will remain loyal.

The first 4x4 I ever drove was a Land Rover. Toyota, Nissan, Land Rover, and Chrysler build fine 4x4 vehicles that I like to drive and own, but they're vehicles from foreign corporations. There are no longer any serious, tough utility 4x4s built by an American company, even though North American workers build quality foreign vehicles here with pride. Jeep showed the rest of the world how to build tough 4x4s. I'd like to see an American 4x4 utility vehicle again competing with the rest of the world.

If Jeep doesn't introduce a competent new Wrangler, there will be room at the top. The reigning king's term is almost up and will soon pass into history. The successor may be weak and unable to rule. If Ford brought back the Bronco, built along the lines of the current Wrangler, it could be a serious contender for the throne. The same could happen if GM picked up the torch and brought us a tough new Blazer. The sales numbers of these vehicles would be astronomical. Come on, Ford and GM. Bring back the Bronco and Blazer. Maybe International could join the fray with a new Scout.

Let the leadership battle begin.

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

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