When Cappa first doled out this story assignment I thought I'd be writing a very different slant. As usual, I'd try to press the funny-button and talk about how, as the supreme being at Jeep, I'd make my underlings kneel before me as I passed in the hallways and avert all eye contact-like extras on a Jack Nicolson movie set. The corporate jet would be flown by a staff of scantily-clad female pilots and stewardesses a la a James Bond movie and secretaries (yeah, they'd be called secretaries again) would get their asses pinched like in an episode of Mad Men. Subordinates would be forced to eat pickled onions at my command and anybody caught arriving late to work would have to drive the pink Surrey-Edition JK for a month. And somewhere in the middle we'd churn out flatfenders and CJ-6s 'til the world saw things my way.
Unfortunately, before I could write that story, Cappa and Trasborg turned in their drafts for editing and I realized that they were actually taking this thing seriously. I mean, Cappa's story, full of facts and figures, almost reads like a job application. And Trasborg's story was uncharacteristically chock-full of salient observations and ideas. So here I am with all this pent up comedic banter on one hand and a very real idea of what the Jeep brand means to me on the other. Unfortunately, Jeep's current direction with the brand doesn't really jibe with my view of Jeep's military and utilitarian heritage.
I'm all about analogies, so here's my gripe. Harley Davison doesn't try to be Honda. It's not who they are. When Honda came to market and started killing it with the CBR and other girlie-type bikes back in the day, Harley didn't refine its V-twin engine to run smooth and quiet and not break down frequently 'cause a Harley is more than just transportation. It's a lifestyle thing. Harley has always stood out as an independent maverick awash in a sea of compromised mediocrity. And despite some rocky times thanks to mismanagement (thanks, AMF!), it generally kills it in sales, with new bikes flying off the showroom floor faster than the factory can make 'em.
Now let's look at the current Jeep models. Anything flying off the showroom floors as fast as the factory can build 'em? Wrangler Rubicon: yup. Fluffier Jeep models like the Sahara Wrangler: They hang around the lot a bit, but they do sell well. Grand Cherokee: Kinda-sorta, but things are looking down from models of the past. Commander: Not so much, and I think even without a corporate Hazel-enema the writing is on the wall for this puppy. Patriot, Liberty, Punkass (I mean Compass): If dealers don't pay you to take them away they should! The facts speak for themselves. Even if buyers know they won't ever use the Rubicon's capability off-road, they want to know it's there in reserve in case WWIII happens or zombies come to life. And, more important, they want the world to know via that big Rubicon badge emblazoned across the hood that they bought a real Jeep. Not a watered-down, RAV-4 substitute with worse resale value.
Now to me, the Jeep brand has a heritage that will hopefully never be equaled. Forged in a crucible of blood and hell during WWII, it won the heart of the free world as a driving force in the Allied victory. The Jeep came home from that conflict and began serving important industrial, agricultural, and infrastructural roles as the U.S. built itself into the most powerful nation on earth. It's a workhorse, a tool, and an icon. It stands for something real and measurable. It's an American. You should expect capability, ruggedness, and uncompromised loyalty out of your Jeep. However, marketing guys with fancy ties and $800 shoes are dragging the Jeep name through the mud. Compass? Patriot? Watered-down SUVs like the Commander? That's not what a Jeep is supposed to be at its core.
Dead on Arrival
As soon as I sat down in my new office I'd pick up the phone and kill off the Compass, Patriot, Liberty, and Commander. If some other division in the Chrysler family wanted 'em, let them change the badge on the grille and sell all they can. But I don't consider these college-kid hippy-wagons a Jeep. I think that they only serve to dilute the brand, and honestly, add insult to the name.
The second thing I'd do is a real sales analysis of the current Grand Cherokee as it compares with past Cherokee models and current sales demographics. I don't think that the new WK is going to do well compared to Grand Cherokees of the past and other lower-optioned alternatives currently available. Luxury SUVs are on the decline compared to years past. I'd love to let the WK model run its course, then come back to basics with a real soccer-mom Grand Cherokee that dad would like to take the family camping in on the weekends. I envision something with the seven-passenger interior size of the '04-up Dodge Durango, solid axles hung on coil springs, and a modern computer-controlled full-time/part-time T-case with a real low range reminiscent of the old NP242. The T-case drive system would be platform-wide to streamline manufacturing. My goal would be to eke out the mileage of a part-time 4x4 system without giving up the foul-weather on-road capabilities of the current full-time system. Engines would include a variable-geometry turbo gasoline four-cylinder, MDS Hemi V-8, and four-cylinder turbodiesel. Again, to streamline manufacturing the gas and diesel turbo models would run the same intercooler and turbo locations. I'd still offer a leather-and-amenities-rich Limited model, but the base model would offer substantial savings with vinyl or treated stain-resistant cloth seating, carpetless flooring (spray-in-liner), and twist-out floor drains for easy kid and pet cleanup.
I've got little gripe with the current Wrangler lineup. My coworkers are clamoring for a V-8, but if it hasn't happened yet I'd wager there's a real, honest governmental reason why. I'd offer a turbocharged V-6 option as well as a four-cylinder turbodiesel in addition to the base V-6. I would expand the dealer option base beyond the current Mopar Performance catalog to allow upgrades to military-spec J8 components such as bumpers, tailgates, steel wheels, and recovery equipment. I'd add a winch as standard to the Rubicon like on the Dodge Power Wagon pickups and would expand the options list to include multiple 110-volt power outlets, dual batteries, and an on-board welding system. Otherwise, the rest of my plans would fall right in line with Cappa's by offering buyers the option to mix-and-match drivetrain components and trim level options.
CK-5, CK-6, CK-9
What's a CK you ask? Think of it as the new CJ. It would serve as a less-refined, more industrial version of the Wrangler, but a more civilian-friendly version of the J8. I'd take the military frame of the J8 pickup and shorten it to the length of the current two-door JK to create the CK-5. The CK-6 would be a regular long-wheelbase J8 frame and underpinnings but with a two-door J8 body. And finally, the CK-9 would be the J8 frame with a four-door J8 body. All models would have the same heavy-duty Dana 44 on coil-springs up front and Dana 60 rear on leaf springs as the J8, but with axle gear options of 4.10, 4.88, or 5.38. The gearing would be needed for the 33x12.50R17 tires that would come standard on the steel wheels. If you got the turbodiesel version with the six-speed manual transmission you'd opt for the 4.10 gears. Models with the V-6 option would choose the deep spinner gearsets. No automatic transmission would be offered.
The CK would be available with standard hard half-doors and soft-tops and carpet would not be an option. Multiple round gauges would be in the center of a flat dash like a '40s or '50s CJ and passenger- and driver-side airbags would emerge from behind the steel dash. Interior options would consist of A/C, a radio, and a center console. That's it. Exterior and body options would be more involved. I don't see a true Jeep pickup like the Comanche selling well enough to stay viable but I would offer an optional bolt-in steel bulkhead for your CK. That would turn the CK-5 and CK-9 models into short-bed utes while the CK-6 would be a long-bed ute. A fiberglass half-top or soft top would cover the front passengers when the vehicle was used as a ute.
Naturally, you could factory-order your CK with your choice of 2.72:1, 4.0:1, or dual-low 2.72/4.0:1 T-cases. Electric front and rear lockers would be standard, as would heavy-duty cooling, dual batteries, underbody lighting, and a J8 tailgate. Factory options like front and rear winches, armored rockers and corner guards, and full underbody skidplating would be available.
Why oh why are our men and women in uniform not driving Jeeps into battle? I don't care how many Congressmen I had to get laid or how many Senators I had to bribe-our troops would be rolling into battle with Jeep WMF. The name stands for Willys/MB/Flatfender, but you could call if a Weapon of Mass F*@kery-or whatever. That's the bad thing about military vehicles from the past two decades. Their acronym doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. Imagine what an enemy combatant thinks when his buddies run up screaming, "There's a HUMMER waiting for us on the other side of the hill!"