Jeep unveils 7 custom SUVs for 'off-road mecca'

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Jeep is trekking to the "mecca" of off-roading events later this month with seven new concept SUVs.

The customized vehicles — unveiled in advance of the annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah — range from a baby-blue "Jeep Chief" inspired by the 1970s full-size Cherokee to current Renegade and Cherokee models decked out with Jeep Performance Parts.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV brand uses the annual event, taking place March 28-April 5, to show off customized Jeeps and Mopar parts as well as gauge interest from off-roading enthusiasts on prototype or concept parts and vehicles.

"It is really an off-road mecca, where a lot of our most die-hard, off-roaders come for that entire week," said Jeep CEO Mike Manley during a media event at the automaker's North American headquarters in Auburn Hills. "For us being there, not just to get feedback on our vehicles, but also just be part of the community is so important."

The event is attended by thousands of die-hard off-road enthusiasts, who each year enjoy a week of off-roading on some of the country's most rugged and recognizable trails.

This year's concept vehicles were designed by a small team of engineers, designers and fabricators with a combination of production and prototype Jeep Performance Parts that are designed, engineered, built and quality-tested by the company's Mopar service, parts and customer-care brand.

"Our mission is to serve the brands, particularly Jeep that has the most crazy customer base," said Mopar President and CEO Pietro Gorlier, adding Jeep is the most-customized brand, with sales of more than 1.2 million accessories sold last year in the U.S.

Other concepts heading to Moab: "Staff Car," an open-air Wrangler four-door-based SUV with a shovel and ax on the side, and built as a salute to Jeep military service vehicles; "Wrangler Africa," featuring a raised, custom roof and extended body; "Grand Cherokee Overlander," a customized sage-green SUV with a two-person hard-shell rooftop tent for off-road campers; and "Wrangler Red Rock Responder," the brand's newest pickup truck concept that will be used to respond to any vehicle emergencies in Utah.

"Not everybody, obviously, is going to be able to do this in their garage or to modify these vehicles, but it sparks that creativity and that desire to customize and change vehicles," said Mark Trostle, Mopar and SRT chief designer.

Head of Jeep design Mark Allen said the Chief and Staff Car are "fun, fantasy" models, while the others either feature realistic parts or concepts. "We try to mix things up," he said.

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