Big changes are on the horizon for the Jeep Wrangler, fueled by changing fuel economy standards. The iconic off-road machine is going to drop some serious weight and more than likely its solid axle setup. Could Jeep be going too far?
CAFE Has Wrangler on The Ropes
Rumors have been swirling for years about the future of the Jeep Wrangler, especially after the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations changed. In a nut shell, the CAFE requirements now look at the vehicle’s “footprint” to determine fuel economy standards. This footprint is determined by taking the track in inches (width from wheel center to wheel center), multiplied by the wheelbase in inches, then divided by 144 and you’ve got square footage.
What does that all mean? It means the Jeep Wrangler must hit fuel economy targets that similar sized (not similar purpose) vehicles do like uni-body SUVs. With the Wrangler being heavier than the other SUVs, it HAS to change.
The CAFE regulations will be implemented in 2016 and 2025. This implementation cycle means we will see the first changes now and then even more restrictions later.
The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Will Lose Weight
In response to the 2016 regulations, Jeep is planning on making lots of changes to the Wrangler including using aluminum body panels, air suspension system and dropping the heavy solid axle setup.
Fueling the speculation is Jeep brand boss Mike Manley who told Automotive News that there are no guarantees that they will stick to the solid axle setup.
“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,” Manely told Automotive News. “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.”
The best way to make a more fuel efficient vehicle? Drop the weight. That is exactly the mindset behind dropping the solid axle on the Wrangler. By using an independent suspension system and more electronics, Chrysler can cut a significant amount of weight from the vehicle. This weight loss will correlate to an increase in fuel economy thereby avoiding a fine from the EPA for each vehicle sold.
On the flip side, Jeep could lose significant sales momentum with these changes. Purists and true off-road enthusiasts could seek out the older solid axle models of the past and ignore newer Wranglers with more electronics and an independent suspension. Also, after-market suppliers, like those that go to the SEMA show, will have their work cut new products to adapt to a new suspension setup.
This puts Jeep in a tough spot. They can’t simply drop the Wrangler and start over nor can they make too many changes that will turn off customers.
What do you think? Can Jeep successfully incorporate the mpg changes it needs to or is the Wrangler dead?
Authored by Tim Esterdahl