A few weeks ago, news broke that Fiat-Chrysler, the new overlord of the Chrysler Group family, was considering making a switch from steel bodies to aluminum for the Jeep Wrangler, which is arguably one of the most iconic vehicles on the road today, as well as one with one of the largest cult followings. This means that any proposed alteration as large as fundamentally changing the material that the car is made from wouldn’t go unnoticed, and it may not be well received by purists.
But there was another, larger issue at hand were Fiat-Chrysler to move forward with its aluminum ambitions. The Wrangler, in its current form, is made at a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio. If Jeep moved to a unibody design — which was being speculated — it would mean moving production of the Wrangler out of Toledo.
Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case, according to a new report from Automotive News, which says that Jeep is in fact considering aluminum for the Wrangler, but it will remain a body-on-frame design, meaning the Toledo plant will still be properly equipped to build the vehicle. Auto News reports that this will likely result in bigger production numbers for both U.S. consumption and export.
Aluminum is becoming a more attractive option for automakers to help boost the handling and capabilities of the vehicle while reducing fuel consumption by dropping the curb weight in significant amounts. Generally speaking, aluminum has been reserved largely for luxury cars, but Ford is testing the mass-market waters for the metal with its new aluminum-clad F-150. In specific trims, the truck has been able to shed as much as 700 pounds off the weight of a comparable 2014 model.
For its part, Jeep has experimented with aluminum concepts in the past. For one such model affectionately named “Pork Chop” in 2011, engineers cut out various components and replaced others with aluminum, carbon fiber-reinforced plastics, and other lightweight materials. As a result, the generally hefty Wrangler Sport lost 850 pounds from its original 3,839-pound mass. In 2013, Jeep engineers did the same with a Wrangler Rubicon for a one off named “Stitch” that saw weight cut from its frame, axles, body, and interior. The resulting car clocked it at 1,130 pounds less than the 4,132-pound base model 2013 Rubicon.
The weight savings have immediate benefits for the consumer: it allows the car to take more advantage of the engine’s horsepower, reduces the load to help improve fuel economy, and helps refine handling and agility. These factors culminate to make an all-around better vehicle, and automakers are becoming more receptive to using aluminum as federal fuel efficiency standards become increasingly stringent.
The new Wrangler is slated to be released as a 2017 model year vehicle, and it’s unclear still as to what changes Fiat-Chrysler will initiate when redesigning the off road-ready SUV. Both CEO Sergio Marchionne and Jeep lead Mike Manley have said for months now that the two primary goals of the new Wrangler, in whatever form it may take, will be to “keep Wranglers flowing off the assembly line uninterrupted and don’t screw up a good product,” Automotive News said.
“It is a problem because the evolution of the architecture will entail a significant change in the way in which Wrangler is built,” the news outlet quoted Marchionne as saying in Paris. “We need to preserve two things: all of [Wrangler’s] capabilities, and certainly we need to modernize it.”
Follow Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook