For 23 years, Jeep has had a pickup truck-sized hole in its lineup. Since 2005, the legendary off-roading brand has had several high-profile flirtations with the idea of a truck, only to confound and frustrate Jeep fans by announcing that the company has no immediate plans to enter the pickup market after all. After years of this “will they or won’t they” debate, the idea of a Jeep pickup has joined ranks with the mid-engined Corvette to become one of Detroit’s most legendary unfulfilled promises. But now things are beginning to look up for the idea of a Jeep pickup, and there is some pretty strong evidence that something might be in the works for early next decade.
Speaking with The Detroit News earlier this year, Jeep Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley told the paper: “I remain a big fan of a Jeep pickup. I think we have history that says it belongs in our portfolio.” While he added, “At this moment and time, I have higher priorities. That doesn’t mean to say that we don’t work on it, we’re not looking at it,” the announcement was enough to start speculation that something serious could be in the works, and it could be with the blessing of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
FCA’s Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has long made it a top priority to raise Jeep’s global profile by integrating its lineup with European-built products. The new Italian-built and Fiat-based Jeep Renegade was recently released to positive reviews, and the introduction of the Fiat Strada pickup rebadged as the Ram 700 in Mexico signals that rebadged Fiat-based trucks could become a common sight on U.S. roads within the next few years. Jeep is FCA’s strongest-performing brand in the U.S., ranking seventh-best overall in sales for 2014, and while there was no mention of a Jeep pickup in Marchionne’s comprehensive five-year plan unveiled last year, a Fiat-based truck would fit nicely in his vision for a more globally-competitive lineup, and only increase growth for the brand.
While a Fiat-based pickup is a very real possibility, there’s also a new American model in the works that could easily handle pickup duty: the 2018 Jeep Wrangler.
In 2005, Jeep tantalized its fans by unveiling the Wrangler-based Gladiator concept, one of its most successful concept cars in recent memory. The Gladiator was followed in 2009 with the stripped-down JT concept, which re-imagined the truck as a utilitarian off-roader. With the recent announcement that the next-generation Wrangler will retain it’s traditional body-on-frame construction, Jeep could easily bolt a pickup bed to the new Wrangler’s frame. Mopar (FCA’s parts subsidiary) already makes a little-known pickup conversion kit for the current Wrangler that could probably be modified for the new model; this would keep development costs for a Wrangler-based truck low, and could help make a compelling argument for FCA’s bean counters why the the truck should reach production.
While Jeep went back to its roots with the 2012 Jeep J-12 and Mighty FC concepts, the chances of like a full-size Jeep truck remains highly unlikely. Both concepts were beautifully reimagined versions of the company’s legendary 1960s trucks, but it seems highly unlikely that FCA would let the brand compete too closely with its Ram trucks division. From here, it looks like that if Jeep gets a pickup, it’s most likely to be Fiat or Wrangler-based.
The last pickup in the Jeep lineup was the Cherokee-based Comanche, launched in 1985 to compete with the Chevrolet S-10 and Ford Ranger. Despite sharing the Cherokee’s off-road ready platform and rugged reputation, the truck was phased out by Chrysler in 1992, fearing that a Jeep pickup could take away sales from their Dodge Dakota pickup.
Two decades on, Jeep has grown from a niche builder of SUVs into one of the most successful and competitive car brands in America. A rugged small or mid-sized pickup to compete with the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Toyota Tacoma would only serve to raise Jeep’s profile – and FCA’s profits. The Jeep faithful have been demanding a pickup for years, and it looks like Jeep may finally be listening. Better late than never.
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