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Next-gen Wrangler to respect tradition

Manley's mandate for brand icon: Don't screw it up

The 1945 Jeep CJ-2A was only slightly different from the vehicles Willys produced for the military.

UPDATED: 7/11/16 4:30 pm ET - corrected

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect photo of the 1945 Jeep CJ-2A. 

Mike Manley, the head man at Jeep, regularly refers to the Wrangler as the "icon" and "anchor" of the brand, the vehicle that lends its rough-and-rugged, off-road DNA to all other Jeeps.

And as Jeep finishes work on its first major overhaul in a decade on the Wrangler -- the lone vehicle that traces its lineage back through the brand's 75-year history -- Manley has a clear mission.

Don't screw it up.

For the new Wrangler -- expected to go on sale next summer or later -- it is rumored that Jeep explored all-aluminum construction, fuel-saving suspension changes and even leaving its historic production home in Toledo, Ohio. Now it is clear the next-generation Wrangler will keep its defining characteristics -- although in modified form.

The 2018 Wrangler, a descendant of the Willys MB and decades of Jeep CJs, will retain its solid front and rear axles, its body-on-frame construction and its utilitarian boxy appearance.

But under that clamped-down hood will be more efficient engine choices and a fuel-saving eight-speed automatic transmission. A lighter, stronger frame will underpin its construction, while aluminum will replace steel on many hang-on body parts, reducing weight.

Spy photos confirm a more aerodynamic next-generation Wrangler with a much steeper rake for the windshield and seven-slot grille.

But, Manley said: "You have to be very careful with the aero of Wrangler, because at the end of the day, it needs to be recognizable as a Wrangler. To some extent that restricts you on some of the aero that you can do. But with weight and a number of the changes that we've made, you're going to see that we've really pushed that vehicle forward in terms of its fuel economy."

Manley said last month that additional Wrangler production capacity that will come from retooling part of Fiat Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Complex will be used domestically and internationally.

"We're obviously hoping to continue the success of the next-generation Wrangler," Manley said. "We've push-ed this vehicle forward in many areas -- fuel economy being one of them and that's going to help us in many of the international markets."

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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