Historically speaking, the handicap accessible vehicle market in North America was catered to by aftermarket companies, who’d convert standard passenger vehicles (usually larger vans) to be accessible. But in the early 2000s, a couple of entrepreneurs had a new idea: A commercial vehicle designed from the get-go as accessible. Let’s talk about the Vehicle Production Group, it’s a bit of a wild ride.
Jeep and AM General are joining forces to build a military-spec pickup, drafting the Gladiator into active duty. Though we suppose this is more of a reunion than a team-up, as both companies (and their most iconic models) owe their existence to Kaiser Jeep and Willys — if you go back far enough.
Called the Gladiator XMT (Extreme Military-Grade Truck), the concept exists so AM General can address its need for a new light tactical vehicle. Apparently impressed with the civilian model’s off-road prowess and tow ratings, the manufacturer reached out to Fiat Chrysler to see what could be done with the 4×4. The duo plan to shop the XMT around to militaries around the world, but claim their chief concern remains its suitability for those marching (er… driving) under the American flag.
Last year, news broke that General Motors was getting back into the defense business. The automaker had a slick new military fuel-cell concept and was in the process of setting up GM Defense LLC in Washington, D.C.
It’s now one year later and the automaker has appointed retired Maj. Gen. John Charlton as the subsidiary’s new president. He will report to GM Defense CEO Charlie Freese, a 15-year GM veteran and fuel cell technology expert. The unit’s stated goal is to focus upon “helping GM better anticipate and react to the diverse needs of global aerospace and defense customers.” But it’s also bringing the automaker back into mil-spec work for the first time since 2003, when it sold everything it had to General Dynamics for a cool $1.1 billion.
AM General, the brand responsible for the freedom-spreading Humvee (HMMWV) and obnoxious civilian Hummer, is reportedly up for sale. The company is even alleged to have a couple of suitors.
Both General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are said to be potential bidders. That’s rather fitting, considering GM’s interesting history with the company. However, we doubt the purchase of the Indiana-based heavy vehicle manufacturer would inspire it to bring back the Hummer H2.
Bob Lutz And Henrik Fisker’s feisty Michigan-based VLF Automotive is bringing the H1 back to the masses — provided they don’t reside in North America. Lutz has struck a deal with Humvee Export, a small collective of off-road enthusiasts and entrepreneurs in Saint Clair, Michigan to assemble the trucks using GM powertrains at VLF’s petite factory in Auburn Hills.
Even though General Motors abandoned the Hummer brand in 2010, and H1 assembly in 2006, AM General has continued production of the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle for allied military use. It has also begun offering a C-Series kit to private citizens for $60,000 in 2013, which includes the HMMWV platform minus a powertrain. Seeing an opportunity, Humvee Export began ordering C-Series kits that same year — finishing them off for sale in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. In 2017, they branched out to include export to China and are enlisting VLF in order to expand production.
As a tyke growing up in South Bend, Indiana, my father and I would often stake out the lots behind the Studebaker factories with hopes of spotting the next generation Avanti or Lark. Too often all we spied were rows of Mercedes-Benz automobiles due to the fact that Studebaker was the U.S. distributor for the German brand up until shortly before the closure of their South Bend operations in 1963.
Yesterday it was announced that Mercedes-Benz was returning to South Bend to build the R-Class crossover at the AM General plant, producer of the military Humvee and the late GM Hummer. Mercedes-Benz once moved their headquarters from South Bend to New Jersey and soon to the South (Atlanta) and now R-Class production is moving from the South (Alabama) to South Bend. Got it?
We see quite a few AM General DJ-5 mail Jeeps in this series, but what about all the big FJ-series mail trucks built by AMC with help from its Overland-Willys-Kaiser ancestry? For that, I had to venture to Southern California. Most of those 1970s FJ-8s seem to have become more or less sketchy ice cream trucks, and it’s hard to find a creepier Junkyard Find than a dead ice cream truck.
Some say the huge US Postal Service contract to buy Jeep DJs saved AMC (well, postponed AMC’s final downward spiral by a decade or so), and everyone will agree that vast quantities of USPS-surplus Mail Jeeps gave cheapskate Americans low-cost steel boxes to drive for the last few decades. These things must have been extremely popular in Colorado, because I see them all the time in Denver-area wrecking yards; in this series, we’ve had this Chevy-powered ’68, this Audi-powered ’79, this AMC six-powered ’72, this GM Iron Duke-powered ’82, and now today’s AMC-powered ’71.
Even though the DJ Jeep was two-wheel-drive, Coloradans must really love them. I see DJ-5 “Mail Jeeps” in Denver-area wrecking yards all the time (for example, this ’82 and this ’72). I’ve mostly stopped photographing them for this series, because how much can anyone say about the steel box on wheels that delivered our mail for much of the 1970s? However, a Jeep with a factory-installed Audi engine is interesting, so here we go.
AMC got a (brief) new lease on life in the early 1980s when the French government, via Renault, invested in the staggering Wisconsin car company. Meanwhile, huge purchases of DJ-5s by the US Postal Service also helped prop up the once-proud automaker. The Postal Jeep was a common sight on American roads (and junkyards) for a decade or so after the USPS phased it out, but its bouncy-box-on-wheels ride and two-wheel-drive configuration doomed most examples to The Crusher. Here’s one that I spotted in a Denver self-serve yard last week.