Every year Jeep brings a bunch of really cool Jeeps to the Moab Easter Safari. These all look like over-the-top design projects by the crew in Jeep's Design studio and Mopar. You might have seen them recently in our news department, Drivelines, under the heading "Concept Jeep head to Moab." Many of these vehicles seem like wacky concepts just to get people talking about the Jeep brand. But we think there is more to it than just showing off what cool stuff the Jeep guys can build. We think there are hints to what Jeep is going to build.
I'll start by saying I have no actual factual proof about what is coming in the future from Jeep. Sure, I know many of the people there, and some are in very important positions, but I wouldn't try and get them to reveal secrets that are not ready for public knowledge—and they wouldn't tell me even if I asked. But after looking at some things in Moab during the Easter Safari, I have an idea. Here is what we know to be true.
Jeep is selling every Wrangler it builds, and it's building as many as the factory can. Love or hate Jeeps, the fact is true: A solid-axle, body-on-frame vehicle with a removable top is a hot seller. The aftermarket support is phenomenal, and other OEMs are silly to not try and compete with Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep in this market segment.
Jeep is working on a new Wrangler. If Jeep sticks to its normal 10-year life plan per model, we'll probably see the new one around 2017.
Jeep is a business. It wants to make more money, and to do so it needs to make more vehicles. Two of the vehicles on the "to do" list are a Jeep truck and a Grand Wagoneer (an SUV with three rows of seats). We know this because the guy running Jeep actually told us those are on his list.
Now I'm going out on a limb with this next little deduction, so it may be total horsewater or just something that I want to happen. Take it with a grain of salt. Jeep will build the next Wrangler with four eventual body styles, not just two: a lightweight two-door, a four-door Unlimited, a pickup truck, and a Wagoneer. All will be based on the same platform—not necessarily the same frame, but the same architecture—but I don't think they will all be built in Toledo, Ohio. And the reason I think this is because Jeep has been showing us just these types of concepts at Moab for the past few years.
The emissions and mileage standards are killing our automakers thanks to bureaucrats in Washington who throw around required numbers with seemingly little common sense or connection to reality. Basically they want everything to get a gazillion miles per gallon, and that's not easy with Jeeps. However, the 2013 Moab saw a super-lightweight concept known as Stich with a fabric body and slim trim lightened parts. This is a hint to a future lightweight Jeep two-door in order to meet stringent standards based on footprint. The smaller the Jeep is, the more miles per gallon it needs to get, so expect the two-door to be the uber gas sipper and to come with maybe a smaller engine than the other bigger Wranglers.
The four-door Jeep isn't going anywhere. It's more popular than cake at a fat kid's party. You may think it's big and goofy compared to little Willys army jeeps, but remember that the Dodge Command Car was very similar in size to the four-door Unlimited (thus the Staff Car concept from this year). I have no idea about engine sizes, whether it will be gas or diesel, whether the windshield will fold down, or if it's coming in steel or aluminum, but I'd bet my favorite socks that the four-door is here to stay.
Jeep has been showing us truck concepts at Moab for more years than we can count. This year's Jeep Truck was the Mopar Red Rock Responder. It's like the little boy who cried wolf wolf wolf! But there was no wolf. I think Jeep will offer a Jeep truck based on the next Wrangler platform, and I think Jeep should call it the Wolf.
This year Jeep showed three interesting concepts: the Chief, the Africa, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overlander. These brought together a few ideas for me. The Chief is similar to the old Cherokee Chief but could very easily have had visible back door handles and been an old wood-sided Grand Wagoneer. The Grand Overlander shows the current option for taking a lot of gear on an off-road excursion, but it still only fits a few adults. Now the Africa is a four-door JK Unlimited that was stretched for even more rear body overhang, enough that there could be a third-row seat. My theory is that the Africa is a hint to a future extralong Wrangler, but named the Grand Wagoneer, and it just may have the same frame dimension as...wait for it...a Jeep pickup! I wouldn't be surprised if Jeep is considering building both a Grand Wagoneer Wrangler and a pickup at some new factory location since the Toledo plant is already maxed out building two-doors and four-doors. But what do I know?