If We Ran Jeep: Trasborg's Toledo PlantPosted in Project Vehicles on November 1, 2010 Comment (0)
In the April '09 issue of Jp magazine, I spun a yarn in the midst of Jeep's economic turmoil about International picking up the tab and turning the company around ("International Buys Jeep"). It was one of our most popular stories in years and for good reason. All of us out here in what the Jeep executives call the lunatic fringe are of a mind. It is that mind that got the wildly popular Rubicon package pushed through, but only after years of bait-and-switch. Look at how well the Rubicon is selling.
My first suggestion is get rid of the gene pool dilution. Kill the Patriot and the Compass. Then, end the identity crisis of the Commander. Is it a Cherokee? Is it a super-ute? If it is meant to be the biggest Jeep, then put a frame under it and make it so. I can't see any potential Suburban/Tahoe or Expedition/Excursion owner even looking at the thing as is. Or is it simply meant to take market share from the Durango? The designers tried to capitalize on the XJ's looks and it does evoke that model but in an apish kind of a way. Whatever the Commander is, it doesn't do any of it well. I would just flat-out kill it. Let Chevy and Ford battle over the miniscule monster-ute market.
Cut the line back to a topless short-wheelbase Jeep, a small 4WD wagon, and a luxury Jeep that is still off-road capable. Now when I say 4WD wagon, I don't mean front-wheel-drive-based, 4WD-added-as-an-afterthought mess. I mean a small ute that works for everything from getting groceries to fishing and camping. That brings me to the Liberty. I might never like that name. In 2000-2001 we were being told by dealerships, the Chrysler media corps, and people inside Jeep that the Cherokee would go on. By the summer of 2001, we knew differently. We knew that the Cherokee was to die an ignoble death and be replaced by this independent-front-suspension vehicle with the smallest wheelwells a Jeep ever saw. The current Liberty has some good stuff in it, but really, a starter base price of $24,000? The small-ute's stripped price should be right in line with a base model Wrangler. It would have a solid front axle, at least two decent engine options, and Rubicon-like hard parts available.
I used a photochopped Grand Cherokee WK for the lead of "International Buys Jeep." We went ahead and put Rubicon emblem on the hood and chopped locker buttons into the dash. I don't think a Rubicon Grand would really sell well, though. It was more of a contrivance to help sell the story. Actually, I think that were Jeep to put a solid front axle under the Grand it would hurt sales. Sure I'd love to see a new solid-axle'd Grand Cherokee but a vast majority of people popping 40K for a luxo-ute don't need that ability off-road and likely don't care one way or the other. Sure, call me a heretic if you want, but let's look at the luxo-ute Jeeps of the past. The Wagoneers weren't all that off-road capable from the factory, and if Jeep were to remove the factory 6/4 drop on the Grand, it would be way more off-road capable than the Wagoneer ever was. Sure you could make the argument that the new Grand can be that, but no real Jeep guy wants a complicated electric-over-air-over-whatever suspension. Offer it with a factory lift, or better yet make the factory lift standard.
On to the Wrangler, the one vehicle they haven't managed to destroy. And look! It is selling well! Sure I have little beefs with it, like the aluminum foil-thickness of the body panels and the plastic grille. Oh, and let's talk engines. I've heard all the back-stories about the design of the JK, but if I were running Jeep I'd call a meeting. The first thing I would say would be: "Let's get our heads out of our butts, people, and get a V-8 in the JK." The V-8 engine has historically been a draw to many vehicles in America. Many Americans didn't take the Japanese trucks seriously until they started putting V-8s in their trucks. With a decent V-8, the Unlimited JK would be way more fun to drive. Toss some better axles under the Unlimited JK and you could even start snatching buyers from the 1/2-ton truck market. Oh, and diesels. They exist. I've driven them. Sure, the existing diesel isn't the 3.0L V-6 from the Grand, but it is a diesel, and it does already live in the JK. Let's get that motor into the States.
Trucks. Like almost every other Jeep enthusiast, I want to see a Jeep truck again. A pickup truck is the epitome of what the Jeep name stands for. A Jeep should be, at heart, a utilitarian tool. I, too, would love to see a rebadged Power Wagon and have wondered all these years what the hold up is. However, I think that if Jeep were to do a truck it would need to be a bit smaller. Even the "full-size" J-trucks weren't, and my Comanches are wildly popular with just about every Jeep person who sees them. That mid-size/compact truck market isn't doing well today and whether that is due to lack of new products and innovations or because the market has outgrown small vehicles, I don't know. Build a truck based off the JK. Oh wait, we've already seen them (remember the J8?). Put it into production already. It is a platform that already exists with many parts that already exist. Just not in the U.S. or for general public consumption.
You could even take that one step further. If you compare the four-door JK frame to the two-door frame, you might have noticed that they are largely the same-except the four-door has an extension welded-in under the B-pillar. Likewise, the two-door and four-door use the same front sheetmetal, but different sheetmetal from right around the driver's seat to the back of the Jeep. So the back-half of the body is just a different module. It wouldn't be hard to create a cab enclosure module and drop a bed on the frame back there. The frame could be extended as needed the same way it's already being done to go from a two-door to a four-door Wrangler. Poof, you've got a very Jeep-based truck.