How Much Success Can Jeep Expect From the Gladiator?
As Fiat Chrysler prepares the Jeep Gladiator for its highly anticipated dealer debut, consumers are gearing up for the first midsize pickup conceived of outside the boundaries of established industry norms in quite some time. The Gladiator is very different from the competition. It looks like a modified Wrangler, has a removable windshield, soft or hardtop roof, and doors, and even comes with a manual transmission option. It’s also new, which is noteworthy in itself.
Midsize pickups have a tenancy to linger. The second-generation Chevrolet Colorado first appeared in 2012 and Toyota’s Tacoma typically enjoys a ten-year lifespan before the manufacturer feels the itch for a full redesign. Even Ford’s Ranger is a reheated leftover sourced from the global market. While not necessarily a shortcoming in itself, the segment suffers from a distinct lack of innovation — and that’s exactly where the Gladiator could find its place in the sun.
Bloomberg recently attempted to size up the Jeep’s odds. While no decision could be reached, it did show that the pickup has a few factors working in its favor. The biggest boon involves how much attention the midsize truck segment now enjoys. While crossovers remain king, middleweight pickups have gained substantial ground in America. Between 2015 and 2018, Bloomberg claims premium SUV sales improved by nearly 90 percent while their smaller counterparts gained about 50 percent. Midsize pickups ranked third, growing by 46.7 percent within the same timespan.
While overall volumes aren’t really comparable, midsize pickups show a marked improvement over full-sized trucks (which only grew by 8.8 percent) and all mainstream SUV/crossover segments. Everything else lost ground — bad news for cars, but good news for Jeep.
Of course, Jeep doesn’t want to just enter the segment. It wants to carve out a niche for itself to help syphon sales away from its rivals while keeping its own customers from straying when they decide it’s time to get a pickup.
“A lot of these trucks are interchangeable — not necessarily different other than the sheet metal,” Jeep marketing head Scott Tallon told Bloomberg. “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.”
The Gladiator’s maximum towing capacity of 7,650 pounds (1,600 pounds for payload) is more than competitive for the segment, but Tallon knows that isn’t the be-all and end-all for customers. In addition to its very distinctive styling and legitimate off-road capability, the Gladiator offers standard all-wheel drive, a multi-function tailgate, integrated tie-down points, bed lighting, and some unique storage solutions. It’s also upping the tech game by providing optional extras like a 115-volt outlet, advanced driving aids, and a surprising amount of luxury features.
Throw in all of those removable (and customizable) body panels and you start to see a pickup that really wants to outclass the competition.
Toyota claims not to be worried.
“To be honest, we’ve never been able to meet demand,” said Tacoma marketing head Don Johnson. “We have a lot of faith in our product, our consumers and our heritage.”
With 245,659 deliveries in the U.S. last year, the Tacoma has a long way to fall — and hasn’t provided any indication it’s about to. But we’re less inclined to agree with Mr. Johnson’s assertion that the Gladiator will garner fewer than 50,000 buyers a year and end up cannibalizing existing Jeep sales. The only model with any severe overlap is the Wrangler itself, and Strategic Vision, an auto market research firm, already estimated that around 10 percent of Jeep owners trade in their utility for a pickup truck every year. The Gladiator might be the perfect remedy for that.
Still, even FCA is willing to admit that the pickup could steal some volume from the Wrangler. It forecasts a worst-case scenario of 15 percent of prospective Wrangler sales going to the Gladiator. But if that results in a net increase in brand sales, we doubt Jeep will mind in the slightest. The two vehicles are already manufactured size-by-side and share a bevy of parts, making any volume discrepancies much easier to manage.
So… will the Gladiator redefine the segment or end up as a flash in the pan, catering to buyers too far beyond the confines of mainstream taste? We won’t have to wait long to find out.
Jeep’s Gladiator launches this spring with a standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V6; a torquey 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 appears next year. If you’re wondering about trims, Sport, Sport S, Overland (basically the Sahara), and Rubicon will be the first available.
[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
Maui_zaui on Mar 27, 2019
Love these things and they will sell like hotcakes. I view the Gladiator as a Wrangler with more storage. The length will impact the off road capability, but like most Jeeps 95% of them will stay on the pavement or at best go on a dirt road. My only contention with the Gladiator is the price. I'll venture to guess these things will be expensive.
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