The Jeep Dakar is emerging as the most likely candidate for production among Chrysler Corp.'s 1997 concept vehicles.
Basically a stretched, four-door Wrangler, the 'Dakar is the easiest to build,' said K. Neil Walling, Chrysler's design director.
Designers lengthened the Wrangler's wheelbase 15 inches to accommodate the two additional doors.
Walling stopped short of saying the Dakar will be produced, but several industry sources say it will be made by Chrysler as early as the 2000 model year.
The Wrangler is scheduled for a redesign for the 2002 model year.
A potential assembly site would be the new plant that Chrysler is considering to replace the aging Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, where Jeep Wranglers and Jeep Cherokees are built.
From the B-pillar forward, the Dakar is the Wrangler.
The Dakar's rear seat is borrowed from the Jeep Cherokee.
The Dakar's steel roof incorporates a manual canvas sliding sunroof. A built-in tubular roof rack supports rally lamps, the spare tire and handrails on the D-pillar.
Dealer Michael Lowe isn't concerned about the Dakar siphoning sales from the Cherokee.
The Dakar would be a big hit with consumers, said Lowe, a high-volume dealer in Jasper, Ga.
The Wrangler has been extremely popular since its redesign for the 1997 model year, he said.
'If customers perceive the Dakar as a Wrangler spinoff or cousin, that would be a definite benefit,' Lowe said.
Walling said both the Dakar and the Jeep Icon, a concept that hints at the appearance of the next Wrangler, have received enthusiastic support from Jeep customers.