|Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler for Automotive News.|
Jeep has begun searching for the extra bodies to mount its next big project: the redesign of the Jeep Wrangler. And the job opening descriptions provide some clues as to the changes planned for the off-roader's next generation.
This is supposition on my part, of course -- and a Jeep spokesman declined to comment when asked, saying the company doesn't discuss future product.
With just one exception, the job descriptions posted on the Chryslercareers.com Web site don't identify the Wrangler by name. But given the updated five-year product plan Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne revealed in January, some of the jobs identified appear to be for the next-generation Wrangler, due in 2016.
What the descriptions appear to show is that Jeep has decided to put the next-generation Wrangler on a serious diet, just as Ram did for the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup.
If that's the case, then the lightweight Wrangler Stitch concept that engineers revealed in March for this year's Moab Easter Jeep Safari was a harbinger of things to come.
The job descriptions point to Jeep seeking to use advanced high-strength steels for its frame, a feature that pulled 30 pounds from the weight of the Ram. It also looks as though the Wrangler could lose some steel body panels in favor of aluminum.
It's also likely to pick up the air suspension system used on the Grand Cherokee and Ram. That would provide added clearance when needed and reduce drag on the Wrangler's rolling brick design at highway speeds and increase fuel economy.
I would also look for the Wrangler to add the Ram's pulse-width modulation technology, which pulses the electrical load from the alternator.From a powertrain standpoint, the job descriptions -- and executive statements -- point to the inclusion of a diesel engine variant into the Wrangler, as well as the adoption of Chrysler's eight-speed automatic transmission, or a next-generation variant.
Engineers also will look at the Wrangler's unique closure systems -- the clip-down hood, for example, or its somewhat-inviting-to-thieves exterior door hinges.
What's not clear is whether the next Wrangler might include a permanently fixed wind screen. Only a small percentage of Wrangler owners ever go through the trouble of dropping their wind screen, but eliminating the ability to do so would allow engineers to increase its rake and with it, the Wrangler's fuel economy.
In many ways, the next Wrangler will be the ultimate engineering test for Jeep under its new Fiat ownership, and its biggest potential trap.
Keeping the off-roader's capabilities and customizability is paramount from a sales standpoint, while increasing its fuel efficiency is required by ever-tightening corporate average fuel economy standards.
It's going to be a big, tough job, and it's good to see Chrysler reaching out early to add the expertise it will need to get it done.