The next-generation Jeep Wrangler might have an aluminum body, instead of steel, and be assembled somewhere other than Toledo, Ohio, where its roots go back more than 70 years to the first Willys MB was made for the U.S. Army.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne also hinted at the Paris Motor Show that the iconic Wrangler also could be built on a unibody, rather than a body on frame, structure.
“If the solution is aluminum, then I think unfortunately that Toledo is the wrong place because it requires a complete re-configuring of the assets that would be cost-prohibitive,” Marchionne said. “It would be so outrageously expensive that it would be impossible to work out of that facility.”
The next Wrangler, due in 2017, would benefit from an aluminum body as Chrysler works to improve the fuel economy of all its vehicles. The U.S. government is requiring automakers to reach a fleet average of 56.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
“We need to downsize the engines … and then increase the capabilities by putting turbos in,” Marchionne said. “This requires a complete rethink of the architecture, and before we start committing capital to particular places we need to make sure that we don’t spend an inordinate amount of money trying to get it done.”
However, removing the Wrangler from Toledo would be a major blow for the city where the Jeep started in 1941, then owned by Willys-Overland.
The first Willys MB Jeeps were produced in 1941 for the U.S. military. The first civilian models were made in 1945. It is the oldest off-road vehicle ever made.
Chrysler makes both the Wrangler and the Jeep Cherokee at its Toledo Assembly Complex.
The Auburn Hills automaker has been working to wring more Wrangler production out of Toledo for several years as global sales climbed.
In 2012, for example, Chrysler built more than 200,000 Wranglers, which come with either two or four doors and hired 200 more workers.
As for a suitable location for the aluminum Wrangler, Chrysler plants in Mexico and Canada seem to be out of the question because Marchionne said he wants to preserve Wrangler’s heritage as an American vehicle.
Plants in Sterling Heights and Belvidere, Ill., are able to build unibody cars and SUVs.
It’s possible Toledo would produce another new vehicle, the full-size Jeep Wagoneer by 2018.
“I will never build a Wrangler outside of the U.S.,” Marchionne Thursday. “The commitment to Toledo was certainly in terms of Jeep, and I think the fact that we brought the Cherokee to Toledo is huge. We’re selling over 200,000 of these.”