Next Wrangler to shed pounds, add powertrain options, CEO says

Marchionne at the Detroit auto show today: "The problem we have with Wrangler is that we are at capacity." Photo credit: Bloomberg

DETROIT -- Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the next-generation Jeep Wrangler must be lighter and have more powertrain options to improve fuel economy.

"We know we need to update the architecture. We need to take weight out," he said.

The next-generation Wrangler is up for approval in the next 10 weeks, he said.

The Wrangler is available with a 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline engine and six-speed automatic or manual transmission. Jeep executives have talked about adding a diesel variant as well as more fuel-efficient transmission options.

Wrangler purists fear that the off-roader might lose its solid front axle in favor of an independent front suspension, but Marchionne, 61, said the issue is that Chrysler can't build enough to meet demand. Wrangler's U.S. sales rose 10 percent in 2013 to 155,502.

"The problem we have with Wrangler is that we are at capacity," he said.

Marchionne said expanding Wrangler production to meet worldwide demand is "on the table now," but reiterated that the vehicle would be built only in Toledo, Ohio.

The Wrangler was just one future product Marchionne discussed with journalists. He also said:

  • The design for the next-generation minivan was now "95 percent" complete, and that it would arrive in 24 to 30 months. He said an internal decision on investing in the automaker's Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant for the next-generation minivan to replace the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan would come in the first quarter of 2014. He said the higher wages of Chrysler's Canadian unionized employees compared with the company's UAW-represented workers in the United States continues to be an issue.
  • The Jeep Compass and Patriot are the "weakest links" in Chrysler's North American lineup, but that those deficiencies would be partially addressed when Jeep introduces its new subcompact SUV this year. He said the Jeep, which has not yet been named, will not be called the Jeepster.
  • Chrysler has not yet decided on a new platform for the Dodge Journey, or whether the crossover will continue to be built in Toluca, Mexico. The Journey had been expected to be redesigned on the same platform as the Dodge Dart, Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200, and move from Toluca to Chrysler's Sterling Heights plant in suburban Detroit.
  • Alfa Romeo vehicles beyond the low-volume 4C sports coupe are expected to return to the United States in 2015.
  • Efforts to "internationalize" the Jeep brand, especially in Latin America and Asia, are moving "at the speed of light" because of Fiat's agreement to buy the outstanding shares of Chrysler.
  • The automaker is ending its practice of rebadging Chrysler brand vehicles under the Lancia brand for sale in some European countries.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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