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Wrangler keeps status

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Wrangler keeps status

Reworks slated, but iconic Jeep won't share platforms with any other Chrysler or Fiat

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

The Wrangler, anchor of Chrysler's Jeep brand, will get two major modifications within two years, and more derivatives are in the works.

But the iconic off-roader will remain a relatively lower-volume vehicle in a company pursuing economies of scale.

The Wrangler is the only model Chrysler Group LLC has said must epitomize every aspect of Jeep's go-anywhere DNA. Its special status means that while Chrysler and partner Fiat SpA build more vehicles on fewer global platforms, Wrangler underpinnings will support only Wrangler models.

There will notbe a Fiat from Wrangler bones, said Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand.

Even other Jeep models, such as the Liberty, won't migrate to the Wrangler's specialized body-on-frame construction that gives it off-road prowess.

"There is no Jeep without the Wrangler," said Stephanie Brinley, product analyst with AutoPacific in Troy. "For this particular vehicle, it's an excellent strategy and worth forgoing economies of scale to preserve the foundation of the brand."

The Wrangler is the best-selling model in the Jeep lineup, with U.S. sales of 82,000 vehicles in 2009, and about 19,000 this year through March. About 2,000 more Wranglers are sold internationally each month.

Under Fiat management, there will be two platforms for a future Wrangler-size vehicle.

One platform will underpin a giant new family, encompassing 1 million compact and midsize Chrysler and Fiat cars. The second platform is reserved only for the Wrangler.

While preserving the Wrangler's uniqueness, Chrysler has plans for the vehicle.

A major modification is due this summer, followed by another upgrade next year. Included in the improvements likely will be a new Pentastar V-6 engine to replace old V-6s throughout Chrysler's lineup.

The first set of upgrades come in response to customer feedback, Manley said, without providing specifics of the improvements, many of them to the interior.

Also coming in 2011 are special editions to mark Jeep's 70th anniversary.

To drive interest in the interim, two trim packages have been released for Wrangler and the four-door Wrangler Unlimited. The Wrangler Islander went on sale last month and the more rugged Mountain edition goes on sale later this quarter.

In an effort to wring additional volume from the line, expect more Wrangler derivatives in the future, Manley said.

Jeep buyers are asking for a pickup, an idea that remains under consideration if the Jeep Nukizer 715 concept Chrysler unveiled at the recent Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, is any indication. It was created with a military-only Jeep J8 and Mopar parts.

"I'd love to do (a pickup) as well, but it must be the right time," Manley said. "It is not imminent."

Also under exploration is a diesel-powered Wrangler for North America.

The fuel efficiency and low-end torque of a diesel would augment the capability of the Wrangler, Manley said, and Fiat's lineup of diesel engines gives Chrysler a chance to take another look at diesel power.

Still, he said, "nothing is imminent for North America."

Jeeps sold abroad are available with diesels and "the Wrangler is strong globally," Manley said. It is the top-selling Jeep outside North America.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100420/AUTO01/4200328/1148/auto01/Wrangler-keeps-status#ixzz0ldxVCuIU

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That's what I like to hear. And I hope all future Chrysler products under Fiat's stewardship can keep some semblance of their heritage intact.

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