2009 Jeep Wrangler JT Concept
Another temptress for Jeep pickup aficionados.
Jeep continues to tease us with pickup concepts, raising the expectations of media and enthusiasts alike, only to dash our dreams like a day on the Rubicon Trail without a skid plate.
The latest temptress is the very, very production-feasible, Wrangler-based Jeep JT, a concept dreamed up by Mark Allen of Mopar’s skunkworks design team, a wily in-house group that builds one-off playthings using as many off-the-shelf (or off other people’s shelves) parts as possible. Ergo, almost everything that comprises the JT would not only be easy to produce but is already produced. Hmm.
The JT concept, developed for the SEMA show, shares its frame and 116.0-inch wheelbase, as well as its grille, hood, and everything beneath it, with the new JK Wrangler Unlimited. The JT sits higher, thanks to a three-inch lift kit and 35-inch tires, the latter mounted on ivory-painted Frisbee-style wheels that could have been yanked off a milk truck. The rear end features an electronically locking Dana 44. As for the shallow five-foot bed and side-hinged tailgate: Jeep produces those for the “J8″ Wrangler, a vehicle it makes for the Egyptian military. Who knew?
The only parts not shared with anything else in the DaimlerChrysler family or available from the aftermarket are the custom-made rear bulkhead and removable roof. Oh, and the JT’s unique “Hearing Aid Beige” paint (we’re not making that up) that’s not shared with anything other than, um, hearing aids.
We took a brief spin in the JT around a parking lot—admittedly a far cry from the Rubicon—and found that it drives, not surprisingly, like a jacked-up Wrangler Unlimited in a parking lot. Jeep officials claim that it survived a much more thorough thrashing in Moab at the 2007 Easter Jeep Safari where they first let the JT see the light of day.
According to Aaron Pizzuti, a senior designer at Jeep, V-P of Chrysler Group design Ralph Gilles was in Moab to see an outpouring of enthusiasm for the truck that was supposedly extraordinary, even by Jeep-enthusiast standards. “I know the gears were turning in his head,” Pizzuti said.
Here we go again. Jeep has a history of pickup production that dates back seven decades, with nameplates such as the Honcho and Jeepster. The last offering was the Comanche, which Jeep stopped building in 1992 after a six-year run.
Fans got riled up again when the Scrambler concept debuted at the 2002 SEMA show in Las Vegas. That pickup was briefly considered for production before Chrysler nixed the idea.
The automaker was hounded anew by aficionados following the rollout of the Gladiator pickup concept (there was a previous Gladiator that ran from 1963 to 1970) at the 2005 Detroit auto show, but executives said last summer the Jeep brand will not be returning to the compact-pickup segment any time soon. After crunching the numbers, it was deemed to be an unprofitable proposition—and that was before the financial bottom fell out at Chrysler.
The only source of hope: The decision makers say they killed only the “short term” production plans for a Jeep Honcho/Comanche/Scrambler/Gladiator. We can only hope it remains part of the long-term vision, or that the skunkworks guys start up a little business on the side.