Monday, 21 March 2016
Jeep Wrangler set for diesel and hybrid
The US automotive press is awash with speculation that Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) is planning to reconfigure its Toledo, Ohio, assembly complex next year to build next-generation Jeep Wranglers.
There is speculation the move will boost production by 50 per cent beyond current levels.
The Toledo assembly plant currently builds the Jeep Cherokee but will be tooled up to produce some 350,000 Wranglers annually.
Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) may take the opportunity to launch a Wrangler-based pickup and a diesel-powered version. Quite when they will appear is as yet unknown but some sources suggest they could debut in 2018 and will take advantage of the additional production volume being added.
The rumour mill (ever expecting Ford Motor Company to make some new powertrain announcement) also sees the expected arrival of mild hybrid versions of Wrangler in addition to the diesel powertrains. Mild hybrids bring added complexity and weight, but there is a general trend in that direction. No one can afford not to be seen to be doing something in this sphere irrespective of where it will lead eventually!
Timing of the diesel version seems to be inked in well after the vehicle’s launch next year. But if diesel Wrangler does go down the same road as the popular Ram 1500, then that could mean much more business for the wholly Fiat-owned VM Motori in Cento, Italy. The Italian diesel engine maker will soon have to think about boosting capacity.
It will be recalled that in October 2013, Fiat Group, Fiat Chrysler Automotive's Italian parent company, acquired the outstanding half of VM Motori SpA from General Motors for €34.1 million (then $47.1 million).
After possibly experiencing the vagaries associated with shared ownership for many years, VM Motori can now look back on two years with only one owner. That Fiat and VM are both Italian must help in this relationship, one might be tempted to think.
VM Motori ships 3-litre V6 diesels engines for fitment into the Jeep Cherokee as well as the Ram 1500. The VM Motori power unit is noteworthy for its use of a compacted graphite iron (CGI) vee block.
Fiat Chrysler executives will have observed enviously the undiminished popularity of Ford’s F-Series pick-up trucks, especially the F-150. Ford has embraced aluminium-intensive technology for its pick-up trucks and Fiat Chrysler Automotive is rumoured to be doing likewise. Quite when General Motors intends to launch a pick-up with a CGI vee block is something else about which news is eagerly awaited by the powertrain cognoscenti.
It is expected the pick-up version of Wrangler will use some aluminium-intensive construction but whether FCA engineers adopt self-piercing rivets – like Ford – remains to be seen.
It is similarly speculated that FCA will produce both current-generation and next- generation Wranglers at the same time, raising output to the highest in the off-roader's 75-year history.
This suggests the company plans to continue making the current Wrangler into the first quarter of 2018, some six months start of production (SOP) of the new one.
Mike Manley, head of Jeep brand, is reported to have told Automotive News that he wants to keep the balance between Wrangler supply and demand "at the right place, and to me that is supply just behind demand."
Toledo is the sole producer of the Wrangler. In 2015, FCA chose to convert the Cherokee unibody plant in Toledo to body-on-frame production for the new Wrangler instead of adding capacity to the current line.
According to the rumour mill, FCA intends for Toledo to continue building the unibody Cherokee until March 2017, when Cherokee production will move to Belvidere, Illinois.
Toledo's unibody plant will then shut down for conversion to body-on-frame production. This is expected to take about six months; meanwhile production of the current-generation Wrangler will continue.
The current Wrangler -- likely to be marketed as the Wrangler Classic -- is scheduled to remain in production through March 2018.
Manley refuses to be drawn on Wrangler global sales when new capacity is added, but reckons there is “unmet demand today in North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America”.
"We've seen some weakness coming out of Asia, for the obvious reasons of where China is today," Manley is reported. "But we still see a strong order bank from the U.S., more demand from Europe, and still some residual demand from Asia that we can't fill."
Most Wrangler sales now are in North America but Manley boast Wrangler is in demand in Europe “because of what it stands for".
"It is the incarnation of the most iconic American brand in the world, and the same thing is true in China, so demand continues to grow,” he is reported as saying.