Jeep is expected to launch the pickup truck version of the Wrangler in the spring, and the prospect has Scott Tallon, director of the Jeep brand, smiling.
Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s bedrock SUV brand is in the midst of a successful launch of its completely re-designed Wrangler utility vehicle. The Wrangler pickup has potential to be another sales winner.
“The Wrangler is always going to be the icon of the brand,” Tallon told Trucks.com. Jeep executives looked at potential holes in the marketplace, paying particular attention to opportunities where Jeep would be a fit.
“It has to have some connection with the Jeep brand,” he said.
Though it’s impossible to deny the specialty nature of the Wrangler pickup, it is designed to have genuine truck capabilities. For instance, it’s expected that the rear suspension has been substantially reworked to enhance its ability to carry loads while retaining its off-road capabilities.
“I think the pickup truck will stay true to what a Jeep is, but it will also stay true to what a pickup truck offers in the marketplace,” Tallon said.
“Bringing those two together in a really unique package will allow us to be a little bit different than everything else that’s out there,” he said.
Though this is an era of small-volume specialty vehicles, FCA Chairman and Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne expects the Jeep truck to boost sales by 100,000 units annually. During a June press briefing in Milan he said he wanted to double Jeep brand sales in the next three to five years.
Last year— as it geared up for the new Wrangler — Jeep sales dropped 11 percent to 828,522 vehicles compared with 2016, according to FCA. Now the brand is enjoying a 22 percent increase through the first half of the year, thanks in part to sales of the new Wrangler. Popularity of the Compass small and Cherokee midsize SUVs also is a factor.
Deliveries for the new Wrangler already are poised to set a record in 2018, with sales of nearly 133,500 units through the first half of 2018, according to FCA. That’s a 35 percent surge compared with the same period last year.
Jeep has offered pickup trucks before. From 1962 through 1988 the brand built the Jeep Gladiator J-Series full-size pickup based on the architecture of the Jeep Wagoneer large SUV. The Jeep Comanche, based on the Cherokee, was the brand’s attempt to capitalize on the small pickup craze of the 1980s.
Since Jeep has a history of building and marketing pickup trucks, the leap isn’t as large as Porsche’s move to add SUVs to its sports car lineup.
“We have a history of bringing pickup trucks into the marketplace — very capable, high utility —because that’s what a pickup truck offers, but still very much a Jeep,” Tallon said.
Building in the essential “Jeepness” is the critical factor. Engineering the new vehicle on the Wrangler platform will capture its essence.
“With a truck the formula is no different than with any other Jeep model we have in the lineup today,” Tallon said. “There’s no question that the addition will do exactly what some of these other models have done — bring a new customer to the lineup and broaden our reach.”
Expected to be officially unveiled in spring 2019, the Wrangler pickup grafts a truck bed to the rear of a four-door Wrangler Unlimited. No spy shots of a two-door pickup have surfaced, so a four-door may be the only configuration.
But that doesn’t imply the Wrangler-based pickup will be offered in just one trim. Instead, a full range of trims matching up with the current Wrangler could be available. Further, both hardtop and soft-top versions are expected, and the possibility exists of a power-operated sliding soft top.
The as-yet-unnamed Wrangler-based truck will most likely be powered by the same variety of engines as the current Wrangler. The standard engine in the 2018 Wrangler is the 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. A 270-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is optional. Later this year Jeep plans to introduce a mild-hybrid version of the four cylinder, and next year it plans to add a 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine to its Wrangler four-door model.