Trucks, Jeeps

Jeep Honcho: creating a unique high-mobility pickup truck

Preface, from Bob Sheaves: This is an outside discussion, not an internal design review for program management. It is intended to show how things work “inside.” I am not discussing a real program. All I have talked of was generalities ... specifics only after my confidentiality agreements ceased. 

Imagine a light pickup truck with best-in-class mobility, but an affordable price and a good ride. Sound too good to be true? Maybe not.

Jeep Honcho

During an Allpar Forums discussion about the future of the Dodge Dakota pickup, some suggested boosting Dakota-platform sales by adding a Jeep variant. In 2009, veteran engineer Bob Sheaves wrote:

This was formally brought up four times (1989, 1995, 1999 and 2007) and rejected four times for the same reasons:

1. The Dakota could not meet the Jeep requirements for performance, offroad capability and specific powertrain compatibility;

2. There was no place with the capacity to add a Jeep variant. And, thank God for that!"

It could not be modified, changed, altered or nudged in any manner into meting the requirements. That decision was made many times. In fact, as many times as it was possible potentially make it work. ... Just remember two things:

1. You can make a car do anything you want, but ...

2. The more specialized and focused the ends desired the less useful as a daily driver.

Trailmaster asked Sheaves about two biggest differences between the Dodge and the Jeep. He responded:

1989 jeep comancheMy comparisons are based on quite a few Dodge trucks of that period I've owned and/or driven, and the Jeep pickup that I own and one other that I've driven.  Dodge pickup mobility -- I will debate this. Every one I've been in has been fairly competent off the road and on. Even the D200s and 300s do surprisingly well. Not CJ7 well, but well enough to create red faces among the bowtie and blue oval boys.

Dodge pickup interiors: As nice as the Adventurer interiors were with the fancy door panels and cloth seats, they were still capable of being a good work truck interior. My 1976 dually has the Adventurer Sport package with every interior option they had available, but it's still a “truck” interior. Not a bad thing. I like it like that. In my opinion, Ford was the first of the Big 3 to geegaw up their truck interiors.

Dodge pickup ride: The weakest point of all, while driving a 1970s W Series, you're not ever going to forget you're in a truck. Hope your coffee cup has a lid; you're going to need it if you come across a washboard road.

Jeep pickup mobility: The J10 I drove had incredible mobility. I'm especially fond of the QuadraTrac as it's capable of turning the bowtie and blue oval boys green and making them use vocabulary you aren't going to hear at a church social. My J20, not so much. I was a bit dismayed when I tried a trail that lifted opposing wheels and had to get out the come-a-long, too stiff in the spring department and no limited slip in the axles. However, chain it to anything where all four are on the ground, and even with the bearings coming apart in the 401, when I put it in D (Drive) and feed it some juice something always moved, unless the chain broke.

1972 dodge ram

Jeep pickup interiors: By the time AMC had Jeep for a bit, quite a few were getting plumb fancy. My J20 has deep pile carpet, tilt wheel, A/C 6 way power 40/20/40 cloth seats, etc. Quite upscale, definitely needs seat covers and floor mats, but still durable enough. Not a problem, other than being hard to keep clean. I like it like that. The J10 I drove was similarly specified.

Jeep pickup ride: This is where it's at! Even with its stiff springs, a J20 won't dump your coffee, even on the roughest two-track trail you can find.

A lot of Jeep stuff found its way into the Ram and it's the better truck for it. But I'm thinking the Jeep stuff that found its way there was the things that Jeep was pioneering in the 1970s, and in some cases even before, some of that was making a pickup a bit more civilized without ruining it for its main purpose. And, some of that was helping it do what a truck is designed to do."

My first point: The new Power Wagon (only this model) had far more mobility than any previous Dodge (ride is also part of mobility) truck of yesterday or today.

The second point: Jeep interiors were cobbled together by using whatever they could get, i.e. the A/C unit (until the XJ and MJ) was an aftermarket unit -- not an integrated HVAC as the Chrysler, Ford or GM trucks were. But, the interiors held up better to use than the competition, even considering the absolutely abysmal electrical switches, knobs and miscellaneous stuff that self destructed within days of original assembly. (OK, I admit the last statement was a bit excessive, but that was for effect. Kaiser and, then, AMC had the highest electrical system failure warranty rates in the industry, bar none.)

Sheaves went on to suggest that the only three production trucks sold in the U.S. that the Power Wagon could not outperform in mobility were the Wrangler Rubicon, MB Gelendewagon, and the AMG M998 (H1). He also said that it was important to remember that Chrysler was moving to combined dealerships, "so no crossing over between Dodge and Jeep with the same models; no more Dakota, limited money for changes and brand identity."

Zetsche and the Dodge Power Wagon off-road Ram pickup

When asked to comment about "the Honcho," he noted earlier work, under DaimlerChrysler, to base a Sterling truck on the Dodge Ram.

... there were new Sterlings designed to complement the upcoming Dodge Heavy Dutys, but the will now never go into production. However, an interesting possibility exits in that you could combine the following parts to make an exclusive, modern day Honcho for Jeep:

  1. Standard cab with low line Sterling commercial interior. This means no Club cab, no Quad Cab, no Crew Cab and bench seat with rubber floor mats (the electrical system is already water resistant) to be able to flush the inside out, like a Wrangler. No radio options (commercial buyers want to use Gamber Johnson in-dash mounts for their Motorolas), just a prewire kit.
  2. Ram Power Wagon suspension, wheels and tires. Optional dead front axle for a 4 x 2 driveline.
  3. A 6-foot box on short rear frame section (the frame is multiple pieces, so the only new part is the rear frame rails). Fuel tank comes directly from the light duty Dodge.
  4. Jeep specific front fenders, hood, headlamps, grille and core support.
  5. Rating as 3/4-ton only in both 4 x 2 and 4 x 4 combinations. This would allow the Cummins to also be a Jeep engine.
  6. Only transmission options would be HD Aisin auto or HD 6 speed manual with extra clutch plate (dual disc) ... shared HD upgrade with the HD Dodges.

This change should be simple enough: to replace all the Sterlings (actually easier to build since there would be less changes to the Dodge) and cost around $75 million, or about half the original Sterling efforts.

1986 Jeep Comanche Land Speed Record

[Some rules will need to be:] 

1. Use the existing platforms to hold the line on manufacturing costs;

2. Minimize the new parts required to create a new niche that is not being serviced by anyone, and eliminate product overlap;

3. Remember the past's strengths and think how to adapt the history to current markets;

4. Do not reinvent the wheel; roll it harder and faster than anyone else.

He also reemphasized that his ideas “won't replace Dakota. It's not intended to. It's intended to fill a hole in Jeep with a fast -- less than 18 months -- program to production.”

When asked why there should be new crew-cab version of the Jeep Honcho, he replied:

1. Parts never existed for a lone line crew cab for Sterling. Result: extra cost.

2. Dodge would get the crew cab for brand differentiation. Jeep as basic, hard-core work truck that can be outfitted with aftermarket stuff (i.e. Mopar Performance 'kits' of Dodge parts for dealer install as on the old Jeeps) for play. Commercial users want a basic truck without any frills.

3. Too much manufacturing complexity. Result: increased costs, again."

4. Adding length to a vehicle changes its Ackermann effect on steering. By keeping one length, you can optimize turning circle and maneuverability which, in turn, affects mobility. That is part of the reason for a dead front on the Jeep 4 x 2.

The Dodge would still have an independent front suspension for the 4 x 2. The Jeep suspension setting would be similar and components (except for the carrier housing, obviously) would be exactly the same.

first generation dakota pickup

Asked why he would use a six-foot bed on a 3/4-1 ton truck,

1. Marketing. No one else has a heavy duty short bed. The idea came from a conversation with a couple of people that do contract explosive mining. They hated the large turning circle of a standard wheelbase 3/4 ton Dodge and did not need the room of the longer bed. Stuff kept sliding around. This would give Jeep an advantage over all other pretenders. I would also prevent the Dodge dealers from pressuring management to obtain the same configuration. This would be a “Jeep thing” that Dodge dealers should not have;

2. Mobility. The shorter wheelbase, plus the link coil dead axle on the 4 x 2 and a live axle on the 4 x 4, allows the suspension and steering to provide a tighter turning circle while the shorter wheelbase gives a higher breakover angle for increased mobility.

An addendum: Because you only have one wheelbase to be connected with, I would attempt to resource the from axles to AAM instead of Dan/Spicer and modify the knuckles to allow a full 35° wheel cut on both, instead of 31°. The problem with going further is the wheel and knuckle u-joints and binding when in 4WD. I would probably look into a high travel Rzeppa or other high travel/high longevity joint to replace the existing joints. Any travel over 35° would be gravy and out turn anything else even close in the marketplace.

Trailmaster replied,

I understand your plan is aimed at commercial buyers, and all is fine and well with that idea because Jeep pickups did appeal to those that wanted a good solid ultra reliable pickup with no frills. But, many noncommercial buyers bought a Jeep pickup because it was a Jeep and they had need of a pickup for the things that a CJ wouldn't do. I propose the following changes, realizing it will increase production costs some, but I think it will still be viable and not encroach on Dodge's territory too much ~ and, it will appeal to both sets of buyers:

1. It has to have some radio available, even if a basic AM/FM is the only option;

2. I've owned one short box pickup, and while it was handy for some things, the box was always a bit short for hauling anything. Ultimately, it wound up with a topper, because it wasn't much more than an oversize toolbox anyway. Also, as previously mentioned, quite a few of the aftermarket body makers don't base bodies on the shorter wheelbase. A possibility in keeping with your Ram PW suspension, the J10 and J20 share all the same engine options and suspension, but the J10 is the 6-foot bed and J20 is the 8-foot bed; 3. You have a wonderful idea for a J20, but some buyers might not be so interested in the diesel version. I propose two engine options: a V8 gas and, of course, your idea for the Cummins.

I'm not saying that the whole option list needs (to be) thrown at the truck, but I think that the one-size-fits-all theory is going to turn away as many buyers as it will attract. I think it needs to have some options available, but I will agree it needs to be kept simple.

Bob Sheaves countered with a list of options that could be dealer installed, including:

Larger fuel tanks; AM/FM/HD/SAT/GPS Radios; MileMarker hydraulic winches and integrated bumpers front and rear; Brush guards and body 'armor'; Carpet-snap in installation for cleaning; Custom steering wheels; Auxiliary lighting front, rear and bed; Custom wheels; Utility bed, rack, bed cap, tonneau (hard or soft); Leather bucket seats or cloth suspension seats (think of a nice set of Mastercraft Baja racing seats); Power seat tracks. ... Basically, anything that the dealer could install without much disassembly. Get these parts out of the plant to give the customer a choice and lower the build cost without saddling every customer with the costs. Unfortunately, some items would have to be factory installed and limited by costs, such as power accessories (A/C, steering, brakes, windows) that would require major disassembly to install at the dealer.

Anything other than a 6-foot bed would be a non-starter.  You have just lost the marketing advantage that would enable this idea to go forward as Dodge already has the Power Wagon. You also lose the mobility advantage to allow the Jeep to have a step up over Dodge -- a technical advantage.  From a corporate standpoint, an 8-foot bed wouldn't fly and the whole idea would be killed.

Remember, you cannot justify another “me too” product; it is simply too much risk without benefit for very scarce dollars. From a potential market prospective, you are adding only 30,000 trucks a year maximum to the total plant capacity. Dodge (with the exception of the 4 x 2 R/T) would not have any short box trucks, again, to keep the Dodge exclusivity of the R/T. The 8-foot box idea would be rejected out of hand, sorry.

The gas engine might be a problem, from a CAFE requirement, which is why I specified a Cummins diesel only and also strictly a 3/4 ton version only. I would be flexible on the choice of diesel (meaning the V6 4.2 would be acceptable as a base engine, with the V8 and the current 6.7 inline 6 as optional), but a gas engine causes, in my opinion, more problems than it is worth. Again, a marketing thing: “Who has the highest mileage and longest lasting work trucks? Only in a Jeep ... anything else is just a car.”

Another thing I have not previously mentioned would be a requirement for a minimum of 350,000 miles service life ... again, to stick my finger into Ford's collective eye.  The problem is one of cost ... you are now looking at a base truck price of around $35,000 [2012 dollars] before any options are added. Cheaper than the Ford Raptor, but not nearly as plush.

For me, this a reasonable tradeoff. For the average commercial truck buyer, it should be OK also (return on investment rules the commercial industry), but for a private buyer, I am hesitant to say they would go for it. Which is part of this whole discussion ... what will the end user pay to get his/her dream truck?

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