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Jeep CEO: No timetable on Wrangler production or pickup

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

There is no set date for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to decide if production of the next-generation Wrangler will stay in Toledo or whether it will base a pickup on the popular SUV, according to Jeep CEO and President Mike Manley.

There are a lot of moving parts and issues to address before making final decisions on production, he told reporters Thursday. Issues include capacity restraints, retooling costs and possible production downtime of the highly popular, profitable vehicle.

“There’s no set date for a decision, but obviously there’s a lot of pressure and interest to make a decision as soon as possible,” he said during a media event unveiling seven Jeep concepts, including a Wrangler-based pickup, at the company’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills. “There’s a lot of vested interest in it, and I think everybody wants to understand where we’re going.”

Manley’s comments come after Fiat Chrysler recently received an incentive and development package from Toledo and Ohio officials, lobbying to keep Wrangler production in the city. Manley confirmed the pitch was submitted but said he had not seen it.

Exact details of the plan have not been released, but likely involves more than 100 acres of land adjacent to Toledo Assembly Complex that officials have purchased. It’s speculated that Fiat Chrysler could expand its current plant with a flexible body-on-frame line or lines that could increase Wrangler production.

Fiat Chrysler has declined to comment on the city’s land purchases, which came after Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said significant enhancements to the next-generation Wrangler — including a possible aluminum body — would likely lead to production leaving its home in Toledo, where the first World War II Jeeps were made.

The next-generation Wrangler is due out in 2017. Manley said “there’s bound to be changes” in the vehicle’s production process no matter where it is produced, but would not get into specifics “until everything is settled” to avoid speculation.

Separately, Manley told reporters that a new-generation Wrangler is an appropriate time for the brand to look into resurrecting a Jeep pickup.

“It is certainly a place the brand can go,” he said. “If you were going to do it, you would probably do it on a new-generation Wrangler.”

Manley said there’s “no time frame in mind” to make a decision on a Jeep pickup, but it is one of the top topics of discussion with customers. He added the brand always is looking at the possibility of a Jeep-branded pickup, which Manley said would need a minimum of a 5-foot bed and function as a capable work vehicle and everyday driver: “You’ve got to be able to pull double duty,” he said.

Manley previously told The Detroit News that he remains “a big fan of a Jeep pickup” because it fits into the lineup and the brand’s heritage.

Jeep pickups date to the 1940s with Willys-Overland Motors, the original American auto company that designed and built the first World War II military Jeeps. The last production model was the Comanche; only about 197,000 were sold from 1986-92.

A Jeep pickup is not part of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s plan through 2018. Manley said the most important thing is getting the next-generation Wrangler right, before it seriously considers a Wrangler-based pickup.

Toledo Assembly Complex is producing as many Wranglers as it can to meet current demands in the U.S. and internationally. Manley said China specifically continues to ask for additional Wranglers.

“There’s quite a lot of unmet potential outside of the U.S., let alone the demand we have here,” he said.

In 2014, Jeep marked its third consecutive year of record global sales by selling more than 1 million vehicles for the first time in the brand's history. Wranglers accounted for 23 percent of sales.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

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