Deep in the bowels of Fiat Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills -- or Turin, or London (it’s hard to tell these days) -- the automaker’s brain trust is making its final call about what to do with the Wrangler plant in Toledo, Ohio.
On its face, the decision will be of intense interest in and around the plant, for obvious economic reasons. There are hundreds, if not thousands of potential jobs on the line, and a publicly funded incentive package to parse out.
But here’s something you may not have considered: FCA’s ultimate decision is likely to have an outsized impact on every dealer in the nation that sells Jeep.
If FCA goes all-in and finally fixes its longstanding Wrangler capacity constraints, it will allow the automaker room to build at least two new products -- a diesel-powered Wrangler and a Wrangler-based midsize pickup -- that could bring in a lot of money.
Of the two, the diesel-powered Wrangler is the more certain bet. Jeep brand head Mike Manley has been pushing for a diesel Wrangler since nearly his first day on the job. He’ll finally get his wish with the 2018 Wrangler, but the engine won’t be the same 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel being used in the Ram 1500 and Grand Cherokee. Look instead for a much improved I-4 diesel currently under development.
As for a Wrangler-based pickup, it’s occupied a place on the brand’s most-wanted list for a decade, ever since Jeep showed that awesome Gladiator concept in 2005.
There have been two main obstacles holding back development of a Wrangler-based pickup: plant capacity and Ram.
If FCA boosts potential Wrangler production to 350,000 units a year -- the overstretched plant built a record 235,904 Wranglers in 2014, despite restricted international orders -- it should still have ample room for a pickup variation.
That just leaves Ram as the last hurdle.
All three of the men who have led the Ram brand since its creation in 2009 have made the same argument to me and to their colleagues: if FCA builds a vehicle with a bed, it needs to wear a Ram badge.
When I echoed these sentiments to Jeep’s Manley earlier this year, he had a very interesting response: One of the two brands sold a million units globally in 2014. One did not.
Clear brand identities mean a lot to FCA, but profits mean more.
And the potential profits for North American dealers from both a diesel-powered Wrangler and a Wrangler-based pickup mean there’s a whole lot of money riding on the final call being made in that FCA boardroom right now -- whether it’s in Auburn Hills, Turin or London.