Reveal of 2018 Jeep Wrangler is coming — and Fiat Chrysler needs it to shine
When most people imagine a Jeep, they probably think first of the Wrangler, the distinctively boxy SUV that often goes topless in the summer and is adored by off-roading enthusiasts.
It’s a vehicle that traces its roots to the original Willys MB, “which earned a place in every GI’s heart” during World War II.
When FCA reveals the 2018 Jeep Wrangler at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month, it will help sate the curiosity of Wrangler fans, many of whom seem pleased, based on online comments.
Anticipation has been feverish, with a fan forum even posting a leaked owners manual.
The company released a few teaser images this week and promised a four-wheel drive vehicle with “a modern design that stays true to the original, advanced fuel-efficient powertrains, more open-air options, with more safety features and advanced technology than ever before.” The images feature a dark-colored four-door Sahara version and a bright-red two-door Rubicon.
The reveal of the redesigned Wrangler will cap a key piece of the production shuffling that has been under way at Fiat Chrysler as part of its $3.5 billion plan to expand the Jeep and Ram brands. The automaker shifted production of the Jeep Cherokee to Belvidere, Ill., from Toledo, Ohio, this year as it prepared to launch production of the new Wrangler at the Toledo North Assembly Plant. The Italian-American automaker is continuing to build the current version of the Wrangler at the Toledo’s south plant.
Part of that plan includes retooling assembly plants in Sterling Heights Assembly Plant for a January start of production on a new Ram 1500 pickup, nd Warren for the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, expected in 2020.
The company is spending $700 million on the Toledo North plant and adding 700 jobs. To gear up, the company, in conjunction with the University of Toledo, trained more than 2,200 workers on Wrangler production, including putting them behind the wheel of a Wrangler on an off-road course outside the plant.
CEO Sergio Marchionne said last month the retooled plant will help the company meet demand — previously constrained by production limitations — for the Wrangler and expand its global presence.
“We’re going (to be) hitting well over 300,000 annual production of the new Wrangler for global distribution,” Marchionne said. “That is something that we have had to neglect because of scarcity of product and we are now positioned to try to take it internationally in a more significant fashion.”
He noted that when the North plant is then retooled to produce a Jeep truck in 2019, the company will have the ability to produce “well over” 400,000 Wranglers or the new truck per year because “I think the truck and the Wrangler are interchangeable.”
That would be a substantial boost from the current capacity of 240,000 per year.
In the U.S., which is the Wrangler’s strongest market, Fiat Chrysler sold 163,533 Wranglers through October of this year, a slight increase over the 163,096 sold during the same period last year. For the year, the Wrangler trails only the Grand Cherokee in Jeep’s total U.S. sales.
Because Jeep is FCA’s most successful brand, with sales expanding from fewer than 500,000 in 2008 to more than 1.4 million last year, the Wrangler’s importance to the company’s future is obvious, especially after Marchionne pushed back last month against speculation that FCA would sell Jeep.
Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst with IHS Markit, called Wrangler the “iconic Jeep” and noted the importance of developing a successful vehicle. Brinley said a stumble could have a longer-term adverse effect on the brand’s image, but based on what she has seen so far, she does not believe that will be a problem.
“The pictures do sure look like they captured the essence of it,” Brinley said. “I fully expect that Jeep will knock it out of the park because I do think they understand how important the vehicle is to the brand.”
The Wrangler is significant in Jeep’s sales volume, but it has an even more crucial role to play, Brinley said.
“It brings the brand sales, but it brings more in terms of image and in terms of being the purest expression of what Jeep is,” Brinley said.