Next-gen Jeep Wrangler won’t have all-aluminum body

Article by Christian Andrei, on May 30, 2015

Instead of an aluminum body, the next-generation off-roader Jeep Wrangler will keep its steel body structure but will feature aluminum components like doors and fenders. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said that the upcoming Jeep Wrangler will not be following the lead of the 2015 Ford F-150.

Last week, Marchionne said that the benefits are outweighed by the costs of making the switch. He explained that after simulating the mileage and the impact, they’ve computed the numbers and concluded that they can do as well even with only some parts of it made of aluminum.

The factors considered were the disparity in the cost and the assembly process. His statements are quite a contrast to what he said a year ago that the Wrangler is the best vehicle in Fiat Chrysler’s range to be made from aluminum. In an interview by Automotive News, sources said that the next-generation Wrangler will feature an aluminum body.

But to minimize costs, Wrangler will follow General Motors’ move of using aluminum parts rather than follow Ford Motor’s move to switch from steel for the F-150. GM chose not to use an aluminum body for the most recent redesign of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups in 2014.

Ford had to convert its pickup plant located in Dearborn, Mich., for the aluminum body construction and as a result, it lost 2 months of production. Ford spent $359 million for this conversion. Fiat Chrysler’s decision benefits its Toledo, Ohio plant, which had hoped for Wrangler production to stay there.

With a steel body for the Wrangler, the plant won’t need to be torn down and rebuilt for the switch. Expected to arrive in 2017, the redesigned Wrangler will still have to reduce its weight in order to improve its fuel economy from its present rating of 21 mpg highway.

Marchionne said that to accomplish this, it will “hang” lightweight aluminum doors and other panels on its steel structure. When asked about plans for the 2018 Wrangler, Marchionne said that it “may go beyond hanging but it's not phenomenally off hanging."

Even when the Toledo won’t have to undergo extensive retooling, there’s still a problem with its capacity limits. Marchionne said that within two months, the company will make the final decision on how Wrangler output will be increased in Toledo.

The 2014 Wrangler sales were able to hit a record 175,328 units in the U.S., its biggest market. From the start of the year through April, it went up another 22%. FCA is being offered an incentive package from Toledo and Ohio for it to approve the local expansion of Wrangler output.

A big tract of land west of the Toledo plant was acquired for the purpose of a possible expansion. The automaker’s decision not to go for an aluminum body is seen by the steel industry as a big save. Ford achieved high sales for the aluminum 2015 F-150.

Its weight was lower by over 700 pounds because of the aluminum body. With further structural revisions, its fuel economy definitely improved modestly. The 2015 F-150 is capable of returning as much as 26 mpg on the highway. In comparison, the 2014 model has a maximum highway rating of 23.

Marchionne’s hesitations are centered on the disruption in its production as well as the cost of a massive retooling of the Wrangler plant for aluminum production. Ford has two plants that build the F-150 but the Wrangler only comes from one plant – the Toledo Assembly complex.

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