A Jeep ute could hit the road in as little as three years.
The American off-road brand has been playing with the idea of a Wranger ute for some time, presenting a two-door load-hauling concept called the Gladiator back in 2005 (pictured above and below in green).
The Chrysler group aftermarket arm, Mopar, has even come up with a conversion kit called JK8, which transforms a regular Wrangler into a ute (pictured below in yellow).
However, Jeep is now looking very closely at building a proper ute version of its go-anywhere machine.
When shown a picture of the Gladiator concept, Manley said: “This is very, very cool.”
“When would it be viable to offer a pick-up version of the Wrangler?” He asked.
“Probably the next generation.”
That is due in either 2015 or 2016, which means Jeep is right on the cusp of locking in whether a Wrangler ute is part of the line-up.
Jeep officials also have to decide whether to build a two-door ute or a four-door version that would not be as capable off-road.
“They are very different cars,” Manley said.
“One of the issues is that when you go four door with a bed is that your break-over angle gets destroyed. We can still maintain approach and departure angles, but when we get to a certain length, the break-over becomes an issue. Then is it really a Wrangler?”
Manley said: “Even though you could say it is a different Wrangler to your mainstream one, you would have to be very, very careful that the pick-up is a true Wrangler. Because it is such an icon, it is so important for Jeep”,
Manley said the two-door would still have excellent off-road capability.
“With a two-door there is no issue at all.”
However, Jeep is not ruling out another way of introducing a Jeep ute, or as it says, pick-up. It is also considering building a stand-alone Jeep ute, not a version of the Wrangler, which would avoid any issues of damaging the Wrangler brand with a ute that doesn’t have such extreme off-road capability.
“The new generation of platforms that we are working on with Fiat are very, very versatile platforms,” Manley said.
“So, I can see the opportunity in the future, to say, bring a pick-up off a platform that has enough global volume so that we can say, build a genuine pick-up, in right-hand drive and left-hand drive.”
Any new Jeep product that is introduced is built in right- and left-hand drive, given the global strength of the brand, so any Jeep ute would be an almost certain starter for Australia.
Chrysler Fiat Australia managing director Clyde Campbell would love to have a Wrangler ute to sell here.
“It would be a really good idea,” he said.
The Australian division has converted a Wrangler with the JK8 ute kit and has it on display at its new South Melbourne headquarters.
“We have got a JK8, the feedback we’ve got from all the tradies that have been working there is incredible, they want to know when they can get one,” he said.