For decades, it’s been on the shortlist of every Jeep diehard in the world. Also, it’s one of those models that’s perpetually just around the corner. Along with a mid-engined Corvette, and well, the Acura NSX, a Wrangler-based pickup is the stuff that automotive dreams are made of; something that we’re promised year after year but never quite seem to get. We’ve been teased with pickups almost every year since 2005, between auto shows and the annual Easter Jeep Safari at Moab, Utah. Demand for a Wrangler-based pickup has gotten so strong in recent years, in fact, that several companies have begun doing conversions, and Jeep even offers a do-it-yourself kit – provided you’re a gifted welder, and are willing to hack up your brand new Wrangler, and instantly void that three-year, 36,000-mile warranty.
Well Jeep fans, it’s time to put that Sawzall down, because Jeep is finally, actually doing it. Today, Automotive News reports that a pickup based on the all-new Wrangler is on the way, and will be here by 2018. What’s more, and will be built alongside America’s favorite off-roader at Jeep’s Toledo, Ohio, plant, ending a year-long battle that pitted plant representatives, the city of Toledo, and the State of Ohio against Fiat Chrysler in an attempt to keep the Wrangler in the same plant that’s produced open-top Jeeps continuously since 1941.
Speaking with Automotive News earlier this week, FCA chief Serio Marchionne said, “We found a solution that accommodates a variety of other interests to us because of the way in which we can move some product around.” He added, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist [to know] that the only way I can move around the Wrangler is to move it into the other Toledo plant.” The conflict started when Marchionne cast doubt on the Wrangler’s future in Toledo last year at the Paris Motor Show. With this latest announcement, however, the Toledo plant will not only receive the necessary tooling to keep the next-generation Wrangler and pickup, but the Jeep Cherokee (the brand’s best-selling model) will be moved elsewhere.
While the Cherokee is leaving Toledo, sources say it will stay in America, and will most likely move to FCA’s Sterling Heights, Mich., or Belvidere, Illi., plants. It’s an easy move for FCA, as both plants are likely to have room, and are already equipped to manufacture unibody vehicles. In a move that doesn’t happen much in the auto industry, the Toledo’s current unibody assembly line will be retooled for body-on-frame models, specifically the all-new Wrangler and pickup.
When all is said and done, Toledo will be capable of producing 350,000 Wranglers and pickups a year. Once the plant is fully online, FCA also plans on having it shoulder some of the burden from its Warren Assembly plant in Michigan as that plant is in need of updating. The company can’t afford any downtime with the Ram 1500 pickup, which is consistently one of the five best-selling vehicles in the U.S. and is largely built at Warren.
According to Marchionne, we’ll have more details on these developments once talks with the UAW conclude in September. But we know that Toledo is happy because it will get the next-generation Wrangler, FCA is happy because this plan allows them to retool for some of its best-selling models without any production gaps, and Jeep fans are happy because they’re finally getting the Wrangler pickup they’ve always wanted. In an industry where compromise is the name of the game, this one could go down as one of the all-time best. Suddenly, it seems like anything is possible. What’s next, a diesel Wrangler? A Hellcat Renegade to take on the Nissan Juke-R maybe? We probably shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves here, it’s not everyday that an automaker announces a new product this exciting.
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