Development of the next-generation Jeep Wrangler is underway, and some big changes are expected for the iconic off-roader. However, Jeep will reportedly keep some elements of the current Wrangler, including its body-on-frame chassis.
Surely a relief to Wrangler fans, this bit of information comes courtesy of Automotive News (subscription required), which also reports that the next Wrangler will be built in Toledo, Ohio, just like the current model and its predecessors.
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Previous reports suggested the Wrangler would switch to a unibody design like the vast majority of current SUVs, and get an aluminum body for lighter weight. Both changes would make the Wrangler lighter and more efficient, but they would have also changed its character, and made it impossible to continue production in Toledo.
Off-roaders prefer body-on-frame vehicles to unibody designs, and the two can't be built on the same assembly line. At last month's Paris Auto Show, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles [NYSE:FCAU] CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested that a unibody Wrangler could be built at other Ohio plants, raising concerns in Toledo that the plant there would be bypassed.
Sticking with body-on-frame construction should keep the fans happy, and it could still be paired with an aluminum body for weight savings. This would still require an expensive re-tooling of the Toledo plant, but civic officials are putting a lot of pressure on Fiat Chrysler to keep Wrangler production there.
All of these significant changes are being considered because of looming Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which have carmakers looking to squeeze more efficiency out of everything they make.
It certainly has nothing to do with slow sales. They're up 12 percent compared to the same time last year, and Wranglers are in such short supply that Jeep is limiting overseas exports.
Will the next Wrangler inspire similar enthusiasm from consumers? We'll have to wait until 2017, when the next-gen model is expected to debut, to find out.