LOS ANGELES -- These days, Chrysler can't build Jeep Wranglers fast enough to satisfy demand. But the off-roader hasn't been redesigned since 2006, and stricter fuel economy standards threaten what many Wrangler fans love most about their compact SUV: solid axles.
Jeep brand boss Mike Manley is making no guarantees that the redesigned Wrangler, scheduled for 2016, will stick with that setup.
This year Chrysler Group began advertising for engineers to aid in the redesign, and the postings point to a lighter vehicle with more electronic gadgetry. But vehicles with solid axles are heavier than with independent suspensions.
The Wrangler's coil-link suspension helps make the SUV the undisputed champion for customization among SUVs, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Were the Wrangler to move to a suspension setup similar to that of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, much of that aftermarket customization could evaporate.
It probably also wouldn't sit well with Jeep's loyal customer base -- many of whom recoil at the mere mention of an independent front suspension -- or dealers, who can't keep Wranglers in stock.
Through September, Wrangler sales in the United States are up 11 percent to 119,941. The brand set a sales record in 2012, thanks in great part to demand for the Wrangler.
Manley acknowledged last month the challenge facing engineers. What he didn't promise, though, is that the off-roaders' current suspension setup would remain.
"We're already in an environment where it's a challenge to produce a vehicle in that way, and it's going to get harder," he said. "What I can tell you is that the vehicle is absolutely fundamental to our DNA, and it's going to become progressively harder to make sure that the vehicle meets all of the standards that are required for it."
So how intense is the pressure to get the next Wrangler right?
"Massive. Absolutely massive," Manley said. "Frankly, I know that if I screw up the next Wrangler, then I probably wouldn't be able to leave my house for a long time."