by Gerard Wilson
Because this series focuses on cars, not trucks, the body-on-frame, off-road-focused Jeep Wrangler is treated separately; see our main Jeep segment for Cherokee and others. Table totals are for models/model groupings, by generation. Some totals are on the next chart in the series; in some cases, totals on one chart include cars from a prior chart.
Jeep Wrangler’s history dates back to World War I, when it became apparent that there was a need for small, highly mobile cars that could go cross-country for reconnaissance and small-scale transportation. With some of the brass feeling it was a waste of time, the U.S. Army finally asked automakers for prototypes of small, very light four-wheel-drive vehicles. None made the grade, but American Bantam came closest with a hearty effort, and their design was the core of the new vehicle.
Bantam was too small to fill the contract by itself, so three companies were chosen for production: Ford, which substituted the cheap stamped grille; Willys-Overland; and American Bantam. After the war, Willys kept making Jeeps. By making civilian versions of its Army Jeeps (a name which had multiple common meanings before being chosen as a trademark), it became the only domestic producer of light four wheel drive vehicles, a tiny but reliable niche for decades.
The Jeep line was never a high volume affair, but was almost free of competition and had worldwide revenues. Kaiser bought Willys in 1954 to escape from a GM-Ford price war; AMC bought Kaiser’s car business in 1970, to supplement its unsuccessful car business. Renault acquired shares of AMC starting in 1980, to have an outlet for its cars in North America, selling the company to Chrysler in 1987 when that turned out to be unsuccessful. Renault left behind Francois Castaing, who revolutionized engineering first at AMC and then at Chrysler, and drove Jeep’s transformation from a low-sales niche to a mainstream competitor after 50 years of effort.
This page only covers Wranglers made from 1987, the first year Chrysler owned AMC; production of other Jeeps from 1987 to the present was in our first Jeep production page. No source of official data has been located, so all entries in this table are compiled from published data on monthly and weekly production, coupled with published changeover dates.
The 1987-95 Jeep Wrangler was the replacement for the Jeep CJ series, which dated back to 1946. The Wrangler was designed to make the Jeep more appealing to a broader customer base (a long-time Kaiser focus as well), but, more to the point, to prevent that broader customer base from dying in Jeeps.
The CJ had started out with farmers and commercial users as its primary customers, but as time went on, it became known as a “fun car,” and inexperienced drivers took it on the road, treating it like an ordinary passenger car. This resulted in flip-overs with disastrous consequences; AMC made sure that would become a thing of the past.
Unique even among SUVs, CJ and Wrangler retained removable doors and roofs along with flat fold-down windshields, for the ultimate in open-air driving.
The Wrangler went into production at AMC’s Brampton, Ontario plant in March 1986, while the CJ-7 and other Jeep vehicles kept the Toledo, Ohio, plant occupied; AMC would continue to build Wranglers in Canada for many years. All Wranglers built between March 1986 and June 1987 were 1987 models. Overall, 557,412 were made.
During 1987, Chrysler bought AMC from Renault, which had been unsuccessful in using AMC to sell Renault cars in the United States. Chrysler continued to produce the YJ in Ontario from July 1987 to April of 1992. Then Chrysler closed the 29-year-old Brampton plant and moved the Wrangler back to Toledo, with production going from July 1992 to December 1995. The 1995 model year was extended and the 1997 model year began early (in January 1996); there was no 1996 Wrangler.
AMC had been largely successful in raising the sales of the “universal Jeep,” but the best was still in the future. Customers hated the square headlights, and wanted a smoother, quieter ride, and a better top. They got their wish in 1997.
TJ. The TJ Wrangler was another step in broadening the appeal of the Wrangler for everyday family use. It used a stronger frame and a Cherokee-style suspension that made the vehicle more comfortable off road and on, without compromising the off road ability.
Many customers looked beyond such minor factors as the smoother ride, stronger frame, increased safety, superior off-road capability, and higher build quality, and noticed that the hated square headlights had gone. While moving the parking lights to the fenders was an issue for some, the new Jeep had both a fresh appearance and a clear tie back to the “real Jeeps” used by the Army in the 1940s.
The standard engine until 2003 was a 2.5 liter AMC 4, replaced with a 2.4 liter dual-cam four-cylinder for 2003. The optional engine in these years was a strong four-liter straight-six, an AMC design. Option packages for off road and on road use were many and varied, as were top and door choices. Jeep was clearly working hard to increase the desirability of its Wrangler, and to keep customers coming back; each year brought new improvements. That should come as no surprise, given that “domesticating” the CJ had resulted in much higher sales. The former “Jeep Universal” model was no longer a small niche player, but a big seller in a company which, after 2001, was facing red numbers.
Midyear in 2004, the Wrangler Unlimited, with an additional 250mm of wheelbase, was introduced; not especially popular, it did presage a four-door version in the next generation, which easily outsold the two-door, short-wheelbase Wrangler.
JK. The JK Wrangler was offered in two models from the start: 2 door Wrangler (2.42 meter wheelbase), and four door Wrangler Unlimited (2.95 meter wheelbase). Both were heavier, more powerful, and more expensive than any predecessors, though this can be said of any new CJ or Wrangler series. Wrangler Unlimited, now with four doors, burst out of its shell, out-selling the Wrangler easily every year and selling nearly twice as many units as the short-wheelbase version in 2008. This is not new for Jeep: during the CJ years, each newer, larger CJ model tended to out-sell (and coexist with) its shorter wheelbase predecessor.
The only engine was a 3.8 liter V6, replaced with a more efficient 3.6 liter V6 for the 2012 model year. Export versions had a 2.8 liter turbodiesel V6. Even with many other utility vehicles on sale, the JK was unique, and sold at a rate ahead of its equally-unique predecessors. It is due to be replaced around model-year 2016.
The 1987-2001 XJ Cherokee remains the best selling Jeep of all time with 2.3 million sold, spread over 15 years. The 1993-98 “ZJ” Grand Cherokee is the best selling by year, by a large margin, with 1.6 million made over six years — 274,531 per year! Its record was nearly achieved by its successor, the 1999-2004 Grand Cyerokee, which racked up over a quarter million made per year for six years. The 2005-2010 model came in at less than half that.
Sources: For details on production records and how these numbers were calculated, see the first article in this series, “Plymouth US Production Figures 1946-2001.” These tables are not definitive or fully accurate, but are the best I could do with the available information. I would welcome correspondence with anyone who is interested in this material and can correct any errors or misinformation on my part.
— Gerard Wilson, June 2013
Thanks to Drew for a correction to text added by the editor (not Gerard).
Also see Chrysler history by year
Also by Gerard Wilson: Chrysler 1945-48 • Chrysler 1949-52 • Chrysler 1953-54 • Chrysler 1955-56
and Production numbers and histories, 1946-onwards
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