The smaller and lighter trend in the automotive world isn’t strictly relegated to commuter cars and Ford pickups, it seems.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has dropped some hints indicating that it will be looking into huge changes for the next generation of the company’s ever-popular Jeep Wrangler, including turbocharged engines and aluminum construction. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said that the changes would require Wrangler assembly to move from its current home in Toledo, Ohio during a speech at the Paris Auto Show. According to Auto News, more than 223,000 Wrangler units are produced in Toledo annually, but Marchionne stressed that no jobs would be lost if the company opts to go that route.
Refitting the plant to adapt to aluminum construction would simply be too expensive, Marchionne says. Possible new sites for Wrangler assembly include plants in Illinois and Michigan.
“If the solution is aluminum, then I think, unfortunately, that Toledo is the wrong place, the wrong setup to try and build a Wrangler because it requires a complete re-configuring of the assets that would be cost-prohibitive,” he said. “It would be so outrageously expensive that it would be impossible to try and work out of that facility.”
This has caused quite a stir, as you might imagine, through the Jeep employee ranks in Toledo. But the prospect of getting a turbocharged, aluminum-based Wrangler on the market is apparently too appealing for Marchionne to pass up. With the recent attention that Ford has garnered with its aluminum F-150 pickup trucks, and Toyota also jumping on the bandwagon, switching to aluminum appears to be the way auto manufacturing is headed.
So how does that translate into a fresh, redesigned Jeep Wrangler that is due out for 2017? Changes are being made in part due to stay within government regulations, but it appears to also keep up with industry trends. Still, a turbocharged Wrangler? How could that not be fun to drive?
Currently, the Wrangler is the number two best-seller in the Jeep lineup. Perhaps the company brass is looking to squeeze even more out of it by making it appeal to more consumers — namely those who want an SUV with more fuel economy and a bit more on the performance end.
Fiat is looking to improve its standing, and by switching to aluminum, the company could essentially kill two birds with one stone. Aluminum is cheaper than steel, making for cost-cutting during the manufacturing process. It also helps lower vehicle’s weight — and thereby increase fuel economy. The government has mandated that automakers reach a loft goal of 56.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
By switching to aluminum bodies and adding a turbocharger, the Wrangler could come out being more efficient and increasing its performance capabilities.
“We need to downsize the engines … and then increase the capabilities by putting turbos in,” Marchionne said, according to USA TODAY. “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.”
Fast and lighter — that looks to be the way that the industry as a whole is moving. If even the Jeep Wrangler — a vehicle known for being rough and tough — gets the aluminum makeover, then it’s probably a sure bet that almost every other car in the Fiat fleet is under the same consideration.
Could we see an aluminum Ram in the next few years? How about a Dodge Challenger or Charger? Those would certainly get consumers buzzing, and the aluminum Ram has already been brought into the discussion by Marchionne himself. For now, a lighter, faster Wrangler appears to be the next big change from Fiat headquarters. We’ll have to wait and see if its merely the first wave in a series of changes.