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Tread Lightly

Concept vehicles allow Jeep to explore the outer reaches of the brand.

“Jeep is an evolutionary brand, an American classic, like Harley,” says John P. Sgalia director Jeep Studio Int/Ext Product Design Office. Sgalia talks about the “trinity” that is Jeep. The brand is centered around the Wrangler, or CJ, a true off-road machine based on the World War II military vehicle that made “Jeep” a household word in America. At one end of the spectrum is the Grand Cherokee which combines the sophistication and comfort of a full-size SUV while retaining its off-road-worthiness. At the other sits Liberty, the vehicle that replaced the Cherokee. Liberty promises Wrangler-like performance in a vehicle that still aspires to some SUV attributes.

Growing the brand beyond this trinity seems to be a daunting task for the Jeep folks. You can’t just slap the seven-slot grille, round headlamps and trapezoidal wheel openings on anything and call it a Jeep.

“There’s room stretch it and expand it,” Sgalia says, “as long as we keep it authentic.”

Liberty seems like the biggest stretch for Jeep. The curvy roofline and fenders were a dramatic departure from the Cherokee it replaced, but fear not, the Cherokee styling is back in the very retro-looking Commander that wraps previous-generation Cherokee styling around the Grand Cherokee mechanicals and adds a third row seat.

It’s not that Jeep hasn’t explored uncharted territory (something its core vehicles are designed to do), releasing several interesting concepts at North American auto shows over the last several years. They brought a number of them to Newark, New Jersey’s Liberty Park for a media drive. While these one-off creations often look better than they drive, it still presented the opportunity to look at some of the directions that Jeep has explored over the last several years.


Those who remember the Jeepster from the 1950s won’t see any resemblance, but the theory is somewhat the same. This is what a Jeep sports car might look like, or more closely a very sporty looking dune buggy. The concept has been around since 1999 and still hasn’t seen production, which means it probably won’t.

Jeepster wouldn’t be hard to produce. It may just be hard to produce cheaply. It sits on a Viper chassis with a, new for 1999, 4.7L, 16-valve V-8 Grand Cherokee engine and 4-speed automatic transmission, driving all four wheels through a viscous couple transfer case. The height-adjustable suspension raises or lowers the vehicle a full four inches from 5.75 in. to 9.75 in.

A few laps around the park behind the wheel of the Jeepster confirms that the wind-in-your-hair, open topper is a logical move for the brand, blending off-road ruggedness with radically-cool styling – a Wrangler for the Scion generation, though I’m not too sure there’s a business case for the adjustable suspension, which is one of the features that make it unique.


Jeepster Concept Technical Specifications



Structure: Unitized Body, 2-Door Convertible

Body Material: Steel, Painted

Chassis Material: High-Strength Steel

Suspensions: Adjustable Ride Height 5.75″/9.75″ (Blvd/Off-Road)

Front: Independent, Modified SLA

Rear: Independent, Modified SLA

Wheels: Front & Rear: 19×9, Cast Aluminum

Tires: Front & Rear: 255/55R19

Power Train

Engine: 4.7L SOHC V-8

Layout: Front Engine, AWD

Material: Cast Iron Block, Aluminum Heads

Output: 275 hp (est)

Transmission: 46RE 4-Speed Automatic

Transfer Case: Viscous Couple, Full-Time

Final Drive: Dana 44 (Front & Rear)

Wheelbase: 102.9 in.

Track, Front: 59.4 in.

Track, Rear: 59.4 in.

Curb Weight: (F/R) 3,400 lbs. (53/47)



Treo is billed as a look at Jeep in the distant future. That’s assuming that the distant future doesn’t have mountains and trails. The name “Treo” (meaning three in several languages), refers to the two-plus-one seating. The face says Jeep, but from there on back its pure science fiction. Treo is not as much off-roading vehicle as off-roading enabler. The rear wings also serve as bike racks for transporting your mountain bikes, though you may want to ride the bikes if your in a hurry. While Treo’s designers envision a fuel cell power modules running dual rear-wheel electric motors, we had to settle for the GEM electric car drivetrain with a top speed of 23 mph and a ride that was more akin to a golf cart.


Jeep Treo Technical Specifications

Wheels: 19 in. x 6 in.

Tires: 185/65R19

Length: 127.4 in.

Width: 66.1 in.

Height: 62.4 in.

 Wheelbase: 96.4 in.

Track /Front: 59.0 in. Track/Rear: 59.0 in.

Ground clearance: 7.8 in.

Weight: 1,800 lbs. (estimated)













Willys2 Concept

Willys2, introduced at the same time as Treo, is another look at stretching the brand far beyond its boundaries while still trying to maintain some of the core attributes. Willys2 carries a family resemblance in its Liberty-esque hood and headlamp fairings. The high beltline, lower curvature of the doors and seafoam color make it look like an amphibious vehicle while the oversized tires and wheels say “toy.”

The interior is pure industrial with a brushed-metal torpedo-tube center console and looks like it could be hosed out, an attribute that all Jeeps should have.

The Willys2’s large wheels and wide track made for a very stable ride, though its concept bucket seats were the most uncomfortable of the lot. A 1.6L supercharged inline-4 moved it along impressively.

It wouldn’t bet on conservative Jeep launching a vehicle like Willys2 as a consumer vehicle, but I could certainly see it as a specially-built coastguard or lifeguard rescue vehicle, especially if it could float.

Jeep Willys2 Concept Technical Specifications

Engine: 1.6L I-4 supercharged

Estimated Power: 160 hp

Estimated Torque: 155 lb.ft.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic transmission

Drive: Full-time four-wheel drive with low and high ranges

Structure: One-piece carbon fiber body webbed to aluminium frame, with carbon fiber removable hard top and roof rack

Suspension Front: Independent short-and-long-arm (SLA) with coil-over-shock setup Rear: Multi-link solid rear axle with coil-over-shock setup

Wheels: 21in. x 7.5 in.

Tires: P235/65R21 Goodyear

Length: 142.4 in.

Width: 70.5 in.

Height w/Roof Rack: 70 in.

Wheelbase: 95 in.

Track: Front: 58.9 in., Rear: 59.4 in.

Ground Clearance: 12 in.

Est. Weight w/Roof Rack: 3,000 lb.

0-60 mph: 10 sec.

Top Speed: 87 mph

























Those of you who remember Jeep pickups could picture this Gladiator in your driveway. As Sgalia puts it, “This is a natural.” The Gladiator borrows its name from the Jeep pickups made from 1962 through 1969 and would be the next logical step for Jeep. As vehicles like the Chevrolet Avalanche and Honda Ridgeline begin to redefine what a pickup is, it more than opens the door for Gladiator to motor in.

Gladiator is not a re-bodied Dodge Ram. It’s built on a stretched Wrangler frame and combines the open air attributes of a Wrangler (canvas top, removable doors and fold-down windshield) with the utility of a pickup truck. The four-foot wide bed grows from 5 ft. 8 in. to 8 ft. 11 in. when the rear seats are folded and tucked under the bed extension. Gladiator is powered by a 2.8L 4-cylinder common-rail turbo diesel that makes 163 hp and 295 lb. ft. of torque. It drives all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission and Jeep’s Command Trac part-time 4×4 system, that incorporates front and rear locking differentials.

The front and rear multi-link suspension uses coil over shocks and dual concentric springs out back. Off-road specs include a 13.7-in. ground clearance, 23.2 degree break-over angle and an approach/departure angle of 47.6/38.0 degrees, respectively. So you can haul your 1,500 lb. payload just about anywhere you want to.

The look of this truck is pure Jeep and the ride is pure joy. The tall ride height and 34-in. tires on 18 by 8-in. wheels give a commanding view of the road. Of course, Jeep won’t say if Gladiator will see production, but a close inspection of this vehicle might just explain the mule that I recently saw cruising Detroit’s freeways.

Jeep Gladiator Specifications

Weight (estimated): 4,150 lb.

Length: 205 in.

Wheelbase: 138.4 in.

Front Overhang: 28.3 in.

Rear Overhang: 38.3 in.

Width: 76.6 in.

Height: 74.8 in.

Track, Frt/Rr: 65.6/66.2 in.

Engine: 2.8L 1-4 turbo diesel

Transfer Case: Command Trac, NVG231

Transmission: Manual 6-speed

Axle Gear Ratio: 3:73:1

Front Suspension: 4-link with coilover shocks

Rear Suspension: 5-link with coilover shocks

Ground Clearance: 13.7 in.

Break-Over Angle: 23.2 degrees

Approach/Depart Angle: 47.6/38.0 degrees

Tire Size: 265/75R18

Wheel Size: 18×8 in.
























You could call the Hurricane a dream car … literally. When the Jeep design team was called upon to add the third piece to the tryptic of over-the-top vehicles, taking the stage at the North American International Auto Show, following the Dodge Tomahawk Viper-powered motorcycle and Mercedes-Benz ME412 supercar, designer Aaron Pizutti took it on as a personal challenge. The idea for Hurricane came to him in a dream. The concept was so radical yet so perfect that design chief Trevor Creed and CEO Dieter Zetsche were called out of a meeting to see the initial sketches.

Sgalia calls Hurricane “the ultimate off-road vehicle.”

“It’s the prefect marriage between form and function,” Sgalia adds.

The Hurricane is built up around its unique transfer case. The case, about the size of a 72-qt. cooler uses a special gear set that takes the power from the two 5.7L Hemi V-8s and send it out as a single output to the rest of the case.

Chief Engineer, Doug Quigley says that by designing the system for a single output, the patented design can be used for any-type of off-road application.

“It could be one V-8 engine, it could be a V-8 and a 4-cylinder, two four cylinders or a gas engine in front and an electric motor in back,” Quigley says.

The power from the box is distributed through hydro-electronic differentials with a driveshaft going to each of the four wheels. The vehicle also has inboard brakes which keep them out of harms way when doing some serious off-roading.

The two Hemis are bolted to automatic transmissions. Each engine has its own ECU and there is a central control unit that monitors both so that shift points are exact, no matter what RPMs are. The two engines can put a combined 750 hp to the wheels, but the vehicle can run on only one engine, by shutting down either front or rear V-8s. Both Hemis are equipped with DCX’s Multi-Displacement System, which deactivates one bank of cylinders when the vehicle is cruising. So, the Hurricane can run on 16, eight or four cylinders.

Sgalia says that Hurricane posed some interesting design challenges. With most all of the suspension components exposed, they had to be designed – something that most exterior designers don’t pay much attention too. Each upper and lower A-arm, differential and axle component and spring a shock system show extraordinary attention to detail. One could spend hours ogling the chassis’ billet aluminum bits and springs painted the same metallic red as the Hemi engine blocks. Sgalia says that the design team initially discussed painting the suspension components but couldn’t bring themselves to covering them in paint.

The entire vehicle was designed in ALIAS, moved to CATIA and sent straight to the cutting machine.

Sgalia says the only ‘prototype’ made was a plywood seating buck, “to make sure we could reach all of the gadgets and see out of the thing.”

The carbon fiber body provides most of the vehicles structure. It too, went directly from math to mold with the final piece baked in Metalcrafter’s autoclave. Hurricane’s sleek lines are a more-than-subtle hint at what the next Wrangler will look like. We hope they keep the articulating fenders as well.

A couple of blasts around the parking lot at Newark New Jersey’s Liberty Park is proof that Hurricane is the real thing. While Chrysler wouldn’t let us drive, the feeling from the passenger seat is still unique. Stand on the throttle and the front end lifts from the massive torque, but with power being sent to the wheels through four independent output shafts, the Hurricane seems to float like a hovercraft, save for the weight of the billet aluminum suspension components.

Granted, the idea of putting Hurricane into production is ludicrous, but the transfer case technology could easily find its way under a future generation Wrangler.

The four-shaft system is the perfect off-road traction-control system. Electronically-controlled, it can sense when any of the four wheels are spinning and send all of the torque to the wheel (or wheels) that have traction.

The four shafts along with four-wheel steering allow for five different steering variations.

Regular front wheel steer; four-wheel steer where the rear wheels turn opposite of the fronts; crab steer, where the rear wheels turn the same way as the fronts; skid steer, where each bank of wheels move forward or reverse, steering the vehicle like a tank; and spin steer, where all four wheels turn inboard at 46 degrees, allowing the vehicle to turn in a circle. All of these maneuvers are designed to allow Hurricane to maneuver its way out of just about anything.

Quigley also sees the potential to license the technology to aftermarket companies to retrofit extreme off-roader vehicles.

Quigley has done some extreme off-roading with Hurricane, though he says it’s too new to risk scratching up the suspension parts. He does plan on running it through the off-road courses at Chrysler’s Chelsea, Mich., proving ground.

And don’t be surprised if the Hurricane name doesn’t show up on a lot of other products as well. Little Tykes is currently working on a battery-powered riding toy designed to look just like Hurricane, without the many steering functions.


Jeep Hurricane Specifications

Weight (estimated): 3,850 lbs.

Length: 151.8 in.

Wheelbase: 108.1 in.

Front Overhang: 25.0 in.

Rear Overhang: 18.7 in.

Width: 80.0 in.

Height: 68.2 in.

Track, Frt/Rr: 67.5/67.5 in.

Engine: Two 5.7L Hemi engines

Transfer Case: Custom multi-mode with 1:1, 2:1 and 4:1 ratios

Transmission: 5-Speed automatic

Front and Rear Suspension: Long-travel, short/long arm independent

Ground Clearance: 14.3 in.

Break-Over Angle: 31.5 degrees

Approach/Depart Angle: 64.0/86.7 degrees

Tire Size: 305/70R20

Wheel Size: 20×10 in.




















Jeep Rescue

The Rescue makes sense in a world of Hummers, that is, if Hummers make sense in a world of hummers.

Making its debut at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, this BIG truck was designed as the ultimate search and rescue vehicle, which makes it appropriate for today’s Suburban housewife.

Rescue’s Wrangler-like body bolts to a hydroformed Dodge 3500 pickup chassis and sits on a 122.3-in. wheelbase and 81.2-in. track. This ultimate all-terrain vehicle’s hydropneumatic front suspension and with heavy-duty link-coil rear suspension has adjustable ride height when the additional 4-in. is needed for fording water.

Power comes from a Cummins diesel that makes 325 hp and 600 lb. ft. of torque.

Rescue is what it is, a big diesel truck planted firmly on the ground with enough horsepower and torque to pretty-much squash every other concept here-mentioned.

But with America’s growing dislike for large SUVs, Rescue would have to be limited to military or forestry use, though rumors had it that a Rescue-like vehicle existed in clay before the H2 was even a twinkle in GM’s eye.

Jeep Rescue Concept Technical Specifications

Engine: 5.9L High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel

Maximum power: 325 hp DIN)

Maximum torque: 600 lb.ft.

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive, crawl ratio 70:1

Overall length: 193.2 in.

Overall width: 81.2 in.

Overall height (w/roof rack): 84.2 in.

Wheelbase: 122.3 in.

Ground clearance: 19.38 in.

Vehicle weight (estimated): 6,000 lbs.

Exterior color: Extreme Green Pearl

Interior color: Pebble Beige 

















Jeep Dakar

“What if we had a four door Wrangler?” Sgalia says this was the thought behind Dakar, Jeeps first exploration into a solid-bodied Wrangler. Designer’s stretched a Wrangler chassis 15-in. to make room for the extra two doors. The Dakar is all Wrangler up to the beltline and all new from the beltline up. Dakar has a new windshield, side glass and an all-steel roof. Is there room for Dakar in the Jeep line-up?

“There’s some potential to do a vehicle like that,” Sgalia says.

Sgalia says that Dakar could serve a segment of the market without “projecting a scorched-earth type of military thing, like a Hummer.”

I can’t see there being a big enough demand for Dakar to make a business case for it, though when Jeep gets its new flexible manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio, making variations like these may be easier.

Dakar stays closest to the core of the Jeep brand. It rides and handles like any Wrangler though the closed in cabin takes away most of the reasons that people buy Jeeps and the ride may be bit rougher than most standard SUV owners would like.



“We know that a Jeep can’t be a car,” Sgalia says. Well this is about as close to a car as you can get without being a car. Inspired by the rally-racers of Europe, Compass could easily be the coupe version of the Willys2. Compass starts with the unibody architecture of the Liberty and tops it with a crossover-style steel body. The interior looks like it was machined out of billet aluminum and features fold down rear bucket seats for added storage. Compass drives like Liberty as well, though the lower profile reduces its tippy nature.

Compass might sell as a niche market vehicle, but the only logical way to do that would be to create a Chrysler and Dodge version to build enough capacity to make a business case. That’s something that wouldn’t fly with Jeep aficionados.

Jeep Compass Concept Technical Specifications

Engine: 3.7 90 degree V-6

Estimated power: 210 hp

Estimated torque: 413 lb.ft.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic transmission

Drive: All-wheel drive Body and Suspension Structure: Steel “uniframe” body

Suspension: Front: Independent with upper and lower ‘A’-arms, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabiliser bar Rear: Live axle with trailing upper ‘A’-arm, dual trailing lower arms, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabiliser bar

Wheels 20 in. x 8.5 in.

Tires: P235/55R20 Goodyear

Wheelbase: 104.2 in.

Track, front: 60.7 in. Track, rear: 60.7 in.

Overall length: 163.3 in. 

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