Jeep Wrangler to get ute, hybrid, diesel versions
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has revealed plans for the 2017 Jeep Wrangler and beyond to expand the range and make it more efficient.
THE CURRENT Jeep Wrangler JK has been around since about 2006, and that’s a long time in car terms. Since that time emissions standards have tightened, year by year, and so have safety standards, for example with Australia’s introduction of mandatory stability control.
Every car needs regular updates to stay current, or it has to die like the Land Rover Defender, the last examples of which have just rolled off the production line at Solihull. This is particularly true in the case of the Wrangler, which is a serious 4WD and therefore starting at a disadvantage with weight and aerodynamics. It gets worse, because the Wrangler is a soft-top vehicle with a separate chassis, and has heavy solid axles front and rear instead of the lighter independent suspension favoured today.
Safety and emissions are a huge focus for every automaker on every vehicle, and this graph from FCA’s 2014-2018 Business Plan update shows their future direction:
So what does this mean for the Wrangler? For the moment, it looks like the solid axles are safe. Deleting them would, in the opinion of this writer, not diminish the offroad performance of the stock vehicle and perhaps even improve it as ground clearance would be increased. However, that is not a view shared by the Wrangler community at large which Jeep must be careful not to upset for fear of losing sales and damaging the vehicle’s reputation. The other reason for wanting to retain solid axles is that the vehicle can then be lifted easily and large tyres fitted, something that is much more difficult with independent suspension. The Jeep community will not be happy with vehicles that cannot easily be modified with much larger tyres.
What we have learned just recently comes from this infographic, again from the business plan update:
This clearly shows a new generation 4-door Wrangler (we can assume the 3 door will still continue), which all rumours indicate will be launched for model year 2017, so later this year in 2016.
The really interesting development is hybrid power for the Wrangler in 2019 or so; electric drive in addition to petrol or diesel. Hybrid power has a dual benefit; it helps with emissions, yet also provides great low-speed torque control which is ideal for offroading. Mike Manley, Jeep’s CEO, in an interview with Auto Express said; “You have the potential for hybrid powertrains in the future. Those people who use the Wrangler, the most important thing is the initial torque and the crawl ratio. With an electric motor you have the most torque available and with the right combination of transmission and gear ratios you can create incredible crawl ratios.”
The reference to a HEV is a Hybrid Electric Vehicle, and a mild hybrid is open to interpration but would appear to be a basic version of a hybrid, perhaps with a very small battery, similar to the Range Rover Sport hybrid.
The next-gen powertrain may well include an on-demand function where the front wheels are driven most of the time and the rears driven only when required, again for fuel efficiency. That is however speculation, but “next gen powertrains” has to mean something.
The report also says there are “future ‘white-space’ products planned – Jeep Grand Wagoneer and Jeep pickup truck”. This appears to confirm the Wrangler pickup/ute/bakkie, and there’s confirmation of a diesel Wrangler in the graphic above. A diesel motor is not new to the Australian market, but would be for the USA.
What we do know is that the new Jeep will be made in the USA in Toledo. The drop-down windscreen is likely to be lost for reasons of safety and emissions, and there is speculation the soft-top option will be deleted in favour of removeable panels. This would mean a lighter chassis as the entire body could contribute to rigidity.
What will this mean for the Wrangler’s famed offroad and customisation capability? According to an interview with Car & Driver, Mike Manley says any new car “…has to be a Wrangler, which means it has to be capable. To some extent, a Wrangler is a canvas, and many of our customers like to customize their Wrangler, and we recognize that in the next generation that still has to be a very simple thing for them to do.”
This is consistent with other messages and statements from Jeep. That said, the next Wrangler will need to be more advanced than a JK, and the days of the simple TJ are over.
What might the next Wrangler look like? There’s this, from FCA specialist site www.allpar.com:
Finally, FCA have gone over their own emissions engineering, obviously in light of the VW dieselgate saga, and are confident everything is in order. Nevertheless, they have strengthened their compliance processes. From the report:
The audit revealed all current production vehicle calibrations are compliant with applicable regulations and they operate in the same way on the road as they do in the laboratory under the same operating conditions. To ensure on-going compliance, the following improvement actions are in place or in process:
- Formalized compliance training for all software and emission calibration engineers.
- Established a “best practice” calibration and certification oversight group.
- Instituted regular internal and supplier software and calibration audits.
- Formalized a random, on-road emissions audit testing program.