San Antonio, Texas — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV plans to begin producing a Jeep Wrangler-based pickup truck in late 2019, the head of the Jeep brand said.
That truck does not have a name yet, but Jeep head Mike Manley and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne are considering some historical Jeep names.
The last pickup sold by Jeep was the Comanche. It was produced from the 1985 through the 1992 model years, when the company discontinued it to focus on a Dodge Dakota pickup (the Dakota was discontinued in 2011). Before that, the Willys Jeep Truck was built from 1947 through 1965, followed by the Jeep Gladiator full-size pickup from 1962 to 1971 and the J-Series from 1971 to 1988.
All of the Jeep trucks were built in Toledo, which is where the Wrangler-based pickup will be built.
Jeep for years has teased the idea of a pickup. It has shown pickup concepts before, such as the Jeep J-12 produced for the annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari off-roading event in 2012, and a Jeep Gladiator based on the Jeep Wrangler platform that was shown at the 2005 Detroit auto show.
Cox Automotive executive analyst Rebecca Lindland said automakers need to evaluate bringing back nameplates on a case-by-case basis. The Comanche name could be especially problematic.
“The issue they’re going to find with Comanche is, quite frankly, political correctness: Is it going to be seen as offensive,” she said. “The trick with bringing a nameplate back is understanding the current culture when you’re reintroducing this.”
Using Willys could also be difficult, as the name is seen “as the holy grail of Jeep,” said Lindland. She said Jeep might consider offering Willys as a trim line.
Many analysts had expected to see the Jeep Wrangler pickup begin production next year, which Jeep confirmed in January 2016 was coming. Analysts predict the likely midsize lifestyle-oriented pickup could sell about 40,000 to 45,000 annually.
LMC Automotive estimates a Wrangler pickup could have peak U.S. volume of up to 45,000 a year and likely will be priced higher than some competitors. Sales volume could be challenged by Ford Motor Co.’s midsize Ranger pickup that is expected to be reintroduced around the same time, the research firm said.
Manley said last week he expects the bulk of sales for the Wrangler pickup to be in North America and the Middle East. His comments came at an event in Texas to introduce the automotive press to the next-generation 2017 Jeep Compass.
Jeep will launch a new Wrangler SUV in the fourth quarter this year, Manley said. Fiat Chrysler is spending $700 million at its Toledo Assembly Complex to retool the north plant to produce the new Wrangler.
Manley said the Italian-American automaker is planning to maintain Wrangler production during the changeover to the next-generation SUV. The Wrangler is now produced in the Supplier Park part of the Toledo complex. Wrangler will shift to the north plant to give it more capacity, and Jeep will use the Supplier Park plant for the Wrangler truck, Manley said.
“The key thing for me is to make sure the new Wrangler is fully up and running,” Manley said of the timing for introducing a pickup.
Also in the works: Jeep plans to debut a new high-performance Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk at the New York International Auto Show in April. A facelift for the Cherokee is planned for next year.
Jeep production is being shifted at several facilities: Fiat Chrysler has stopped building the Jeep Cherokee in Toledo in order to move that SUV to Belvidere Assembly in Illinois. Production of the last-generation Compass and the discontinued Patriot ended in December in Belvidere. Manley said Cherokee production is expected to begin in the second quarter at Belvidere, where FCA is spending $350 million to retool.
In January, Fiat Chrysler said it would invest $1 billion to retool its Warren Truck Assembly Plant to build the all-new Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer and to retool in Toledo for the new Jeep pickup. The company said work for those projects was slated to be done by 2020 and would create more than 2,000 jobs.
Manley would not give a date on when work for the Wagoneers would start in Warren. He said it would be after the Ram 1500 pickup is shifted to the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, where Fiat Chrysler is spending $1.48 billion for retooling on a new Ram due out in first quarter 2018.
“That pushes Grand Wagoneer probably until late ’19, or early ’20, which from a timing perspective I’m very very comfortable with, given all that we’ve got to achieve in the next two to three years,” Manley said.
The Grand Wagoneer had been planned to debut in 2018, per Fiat Chrysler’s five-year plan released in 2014.
Manley said the Grand Wagoneer could be sold in certain global regions such as the Middle East, China, Latin America and some Asian markets. Analysts expect the luxury Grand Wagoneer will compete with SUVs from brands such as Range Rover.
“They have customers, they have owners, that play in that space and that have the kind of income” for more expensive SUVs, Lindland said.
Manley said he expects Jeep this year to exceed its 2016 global sales of 1.4 million vehicles. U.S. sales, which rose 6.1 percent to 926,376 in 2016 will have a harder time topping 2016 figures because of plant changeovers, completing the launch of the new 2017 Jeep Compass, because it has stopped production of the old Compass and Patriot and as it has reduced fleet and rental sales, Manley said.
Jeep U.S. sales fell 6.9 percent in January compared to the same period a year ago; in February, they were down 14.7 percent for a drop of 11.1 percent through the first two months of 2017.
“All of those things combined will mean we’ll be down to flat this year in the U.S.,” he said.