With stricter fuel economy standards pushing automakers to reduce vehicle weight, it’s been suggested that the next generation Jeep Wrangler, due in 2016, might come with independent suspension. Solid axles weigh more than independent suspension and the Wrangler has solid axles in both the rear and front of the vehicle. Jeep brand manager Mike Manley hasn’t denied that the next Wrangler may lose the rugged axles that off-roaders love.
Not only would traditional CJ/Wrangler owners look askance at independent suspension, aftermarket suppliers would not be happy. The Wrangler’s simple live axle suspended by coil springs makes it the most popular SUV that people customize, according to SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association. SUVs with more complex independent suspensions are less likely to be altered.
Chrysler has to be careful to avoid upsetting the current Wrangler’s customer base. For the first nine months of this year, Wrangler sales are up 11% to just under 120,000 units. Strong Wrangler sales helped Jeep set a brand sales record last year. Manley knows how important the Wrangler is to the Jeep franchise. “Massive. Absolutely massive,” Manley said. “Frankly, I know that if I screw up the next Wrangler, then I probably wouldn’t be able to leave my house for a long time.”
He wouldn’t promise, though, that the Wrangler will retain its sturdy solid axles. “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,” he said. “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.”