2015 “Not Jeepster:” the small Jeep coded BU
Engineered in India and Michigan, based on a set of dimensions and basic architecture from Italy, and to be built in Italy, the upcoming Jeepster was created to be a premium small SUV. There will be a Trail Rated model roughly matching the 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s off-road capabilities, a high level of comfort and features, and a high price for the segment. It will be made alongside the Fiat 500X crossover, but will be far better suited to off-road use, able to overcome greater obstacles and maintain body integrity despite challenging terrain.
Current reports claim that the Jeepster will have the same basic all wheel drive system as the KL Jeep Cherokee, which has been praised by writers and editors of several off-road magazines — including the five-position terrain selection system. While its terrain-challenging capability will be affected by limited wheel travel, because of its Fiat-based suspension design, engineers have reportedly been working hard to overcome that challenge (shared with KL Cherokee).
Incredibly (for the segment), the Jeepster is also said to have a nine-speed automatic. This possibility was first noted by Allpar on December 23, 2013, and was then proclaimed as “definite” by Italian publication Quattroruote on January 2, 2014.
In July 2013, Jeep CEO Mike Manley said that the new Jeep will be 4.2 meters (165 inches) long, or 16 inches shorter, bumper to bumper, than the 2014 Jeep Cherokee — roughly the exterior size of the 1987-2001 Jeep Cherokee “XJ” (the original Willys Jeep was just 132 inches long). Production appears to be scheduled for midyear 2014, as a 2015 model.
Along with the AWD systems, Jeepster is expected to share Cherokee’s nine-speed automatic transmission, unheard of in a car or SUV of this size and price range. The engine range is still unknown, for both North America and Europe, though 1.4 liter engines are likely to be fitted for Europe and Asia, along with Fiat’s celebrated MultiJet diesels. For the United States and Canada, some expect a revised version of the Chrysler 2-liter four-cylinder, while others believe it will use the turbocharged 1.4 Fiat engine shared with Dart and some Fiat 500s.
Nagesh Basvanahalli, Managing Director of Chrysler India Automotive Private Limited (which includes the Chennai, India technical center), told Indian Autos Blog in February 2013 that the new Jeep would be “a brand new platform… The Jeep customer has unique tastes: go anywhere, do anything, be available. ... the bottom line is it will be a true Jeep. It will be a Jeep, and it will be on the right platform.”
India appears to be involved in development of the interior, as well as localization of the basic design for the region, and analysis. “Triple T” noted [edited somewhat]:
India has a team dedicated the simulation and analysis; DSS and Siemens have a lot of their code and product development done in India, where there is a real aptitude for the math. So much of the structural analysis was done in India. Analysis has moved from validation to optimization and iterative design, as well, so designers work with the software, while studying ways to optimize, adjusting material placement and geometry along the way. Experienced engineers and designers work on the front end and as a true team during component development, but the B-Jeep would not have exclusive use of this valuable resource. (This does not replace physical validation at the end, but material properties of metals are known and the math is ancient; the computational power has exponentially increased lately, allowing smaller meshes, more dynamic, non-linear, and more degrees of freedom.)
A two-year delay acknowledged in the Chrysler five year plan update supports this theory; the delay is explained if the original plan was to use a lightly modified Fiat, but Jeep (in the person of Mike Manley) demanded increased capabilities. It shares Fiat’s SCSS hard-point dimensions, will have a unique suspension architecture and presumably stronger body construction.
There are plans to make up to half a million Jeep B-SUVs and Fiat 500Xs (combined, with 500X being the volume seller) in 2015; in 2012, Fiat sold 154,461 small SUVs. The new SUV seems small, especially compared with a Wrangler, but is much closer in size to the original Jeep military vehicles.
Willys created the Jeepster to try to gain a civilian market, since sales of the core Jeeps were very low (and would remain so, despite frequent attempts to attract mainstream sales). Without the ability to stamp complex shapes, the company leaned on Brooks Stevens to create more simple, yet still attractive, designs; Stevens created the Jeep pickup, station wagon, and the two-door open car Jeepster. It was launched in 1948, and produced for just two years, with fewer than 20,000 made.
The 1948 Jeepster was well outfitted with standard features from whitewall tires to a locking glovebox; it had a four-cylinder engine, unusual for the time, with plastic side curtains, but was priced against high-level Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth convertibles with far more powerful engines. It started out with rear wheel drive along, and while its performance garnered praise, it was not in line with the times. The basic chassis was derived from the CJ, and there was no automatic transmission option. Willys tried cutting the price and features the next year, adding a new six cylinder model as well. For 1950, they redesigned the front end, to no avail. First-year sales were highest, with just over 10,000 sold.
A concept Jeepster was brought out by AMC in 1979, and another by Chrysler in 2005. Designer John Sgalia said at the time it was “the one until recently I'm most proud of.” It was, in his words, “more of a hot rod,” with a high-output 4.7 liter V8, an experiment to see if a non-wagon form could expand the brand.
Despite its sports-car looks, the Jeepster concept could go off-road, and had four wheel drive; thanks to an adjustable-height suspension, you can “speed off to the mountains and then hit the trail” in the same car. The dashboard was a thing of beauty and precision, imparting a look of luxury and utility that shows up the spartan LX series in the same way a Jaguar body shows up an entry-level Ford.