TOLEDO, Ohio -- The next-generation Jeep Wrangler will feature an aluminum body to save weight, and will remain a body-on-frame vehicle, sources say.
Because Chrysler won't make the switch to unibody construction, Wrangler assembly will probably stay in Toledo. And that means the company will likely produce more Wranglers for U.S. dealers and for export.
There's plenty, though, that we don't know about the redesigned SUV, due in 2017:
- Will Chrysler downsize the current 3.6-liter V-6 and squeeze in an eight-speed automatic transmission?
- The Wrangler will keep its frame, but will the next-generation retain its solid axles, preferred by off-road enthusiasts? With its recent one-off concept vehicles, the company has dropped various hints about the nature of the redesigned SUV.
- The city of Toledo on Tues., Oct. 21, agreed to buy 32 acres adjacent to the Wrangler assembly plant. That suggests that a plant expansion is in the works, but the city and the automaker are mum on the possibility.
The Wrangler tale started in early October in Paris when Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, was asked about two of his previous promises -- never to build Wranglers outside Toledo and no more brick-and-mortar factories in North America.
In his response, Marchionne chose his words carefully. He said that the next Wrangler needed to lose weight and that doing so with aluminum might mean the Wrangler had to move elsewhere because of excessive costs to re-equip the Toledo plant for aluminum assembly.
He pointed out that Chrysler had excess capacity in at least two of its existing plants. But the two plants he named currently build only unibody vehicles, which can't be built on the same line as body-on-frame vehicles.
Marchionne's comments set Toledo on edge and started a campaign to keep the Wrangler in its historic home. But now that sources have confirmed that the vehicle will remain body-on-frame, Toledo is breathing a little easier.
Toledo Assembly is one of only two Chrysler body-on-frame assembly plants in the United States. And the land purchase next to the plant suggests both that an expansion is possible and that local officials are working on it.
An expansion could keep Wrangler production flowing and avoid a profit-eroding production hiatus like the one the company endured in 2012 and 2013 when it retooled the unibody half of Toledo Assembly for the Jeep Cherokee.