Americans bought 524,000 midsize pickups last year — about 1,400 a day — but not one of them had removable doors.
In a few weeks, that small but noteworthy gap in the market will be filled by the Jeep Gladiator, an all-new rig that represents Fiat Chrysler's initial bid to buccaneer its way back into one of the industry's hottest segments.
The long awaited Gladiator is drastically different from rival trucks — and it's not just the doors. To further motor en plein air, the windshield folds down and the hardtop comes off. The tailgate can be locked at a half-lowered position to better support a stack of plywood. And the manual transmission is standard — which these days is about as on-trend as an eight-track stereo.
"There's nothing like it out there," TrueCar analyst Eric Lyman said. "A lot of people are going to look at it and say, 'Wow, that's the coolest truck I've ever seen.'"
It's as if Jeep designers snuck a bunch of left-field ideas onto the assembly line, the kind of concepts that today's milquetoast auto industry filters out by rote. Cost-saving synergies from consolidation, regulation and general loss-aversion have led to fewer risks, and thus a mean reversion in design and capabilities. That's why those of us not in pickup trucks are increasingly driving small, round utilities powered by four-cylinders—sexified turtles, as my colleague Hannah Elliott calls them.
The Gladiator is decidedly not that. It's an aesthetic antidote for the homogenous parking lot, and arguably a strategic one, too.
"A lot of these trucks are interchangeable — not necessarily different other than the sheet metal," explained Jeep marketing head Scott Tallon. "We sweat the details on how to package and deliver something that's different and unique. Those little nuances I think are really what's going to set it apart."
Jeep isn't taking orders yet, but it is taking names and e-mails from prospective customers. So far, that list of hand raisers is longer than any for a Jeep in recent memory, the company said.
Idiosyncrasies aside, the Gladiator checks the standard truck boxes, too. Its standard V-6 is good for 285 hp and tows up to 7,650 pounds. It's full of gear ties and a bunch of bins in the cockpit that lock, in case one wants to leave the doors off while at dinner. The bed is sturdy enough to hold 1,600 pounds, roughly the equivalent of a cow, seven dirt bikes or 20 Labrador retrievers. These are the specs Jeep will need if it wants to find favor with truck buyers.