Fiat Chrysler has decided that the next generation of the Jeep Wrangler, due to be released in 2017, will not have an all-aluminum body per current trends. Instead, it’ll remain steel.
This contradicts what Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said just last year, that the Wrangler was the most likely candidate in the lineup to switch to aluminum.
Since aluminum is lighter in weight than steel, aluminum cars tend to get a better fuel economy. For a long time, aluminum was considered too expensive for large volume vehicles. But with carmakers doing all they can to keep up with increasingly strict federal fuel economy requirements, aluminum is looking to be worth the investment.
The Jeep Wrangler’s current fuel economy is at 21 mpg.
Since 2011 the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards have been determined by mathematical functions depending on vehicle “footprint,” a measure of vehicle size determined by multiplying the vehicle’s wheelbase by its average track width. A vehicle with a larger footprint will have a lower fuel economy requirement than a vehicle with a smaller footprint. If the average fuel economy of a manufacturer’s annual fleet falls below the CAFE requirement, the manufacturer must either use CAFE credits to cover the shortfall or pay a penalty.
If Fiat had decided to switch to an aluminum Wrangler, that could have required a razing of the Jeep factory in Toledo, where the Wrangler is built. Fiat Chrysler builds the Wrangler exclusively in Toledo and their sales have been up 22 percent this year, on top of record sales in 2014.
Still, Marchionne said that the company may incorporate aluminum elements into the Wrangler, such as aluminum doors and fenders. Previously reserved for high-end luxury and sports cars, aluminum has been expected to go mainstream ever since the 2015 Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck made the switch, proving it could work in a broader range of vehicles. (The F-150 still has a steel ladder frame.)
Both steel and aluminum industry studies have predicted an increase in aluminum vehicular use, with some stating that seven out of ten pickup trucks will have aluminum bodies by 2025. However, the steel industry argues that this rate will peak as early as 2018 before going back down, as lighter steel becomes available. Meanwhile, CAFE standards will continue to require more fuel-economy gains — up to 42 mpg by 2025.
Toledo, of course, is quite happy for now — not only will the Wrangler factory remain there, but steel is a huge part of Ohio’s industry. The Ohio steel industry’s total economic impact on Ohio’s economy is an estimated $7.2 billion, with almost 100,000 jobs generating $4.8 billion in wages. For every one job in the steel industry, two more jobs are generated.
Toledo has actually been a Jeep production site since the 1940s and has been producing Wranglers for most of the past 70 years.
Even so, it’s uncertain whether Toledo will continue producing the Wrangler. Marchionne said the company is considering another location, but the city government has put together an incentive package for Chrysler to stay. The details are not public, but rumors include some land available west of the current plant. For now, it looks like the Wrangler will remain a product of Toledo.