It's no secret that Jeep is soon jumping into the fast-changing mid-size pickup truck segment. To find out more, we sat down with the brand's head designer Mark Allen during the 51st version of the annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah.
Allen has almost single-handedly brought major success and recognition to what used to be a small off-roading brand. You can't say that about Jeep any more. March sales reports indicate that Jeep could sell 1,000,000 units in the U.S. by year end. That number totals sales for the Renegade, Compass, Patriot, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler SUVs.
Jeep is ready to get back into the pickup truck game after a long absence and an even richer history with an all-new mid-size pickup. We were able to find out more when Allen and his team of designers took time out from the safari to answer questions about the new Jeep pickup. But not to worry, we talked about the safari as well — more on that later.
Why Return to Pickups and What About Sibling Rivalry?
When asked what makes Jeep think it can reenter the pickup segment, Allen noted that Jeep buyers, especially those he stays connected to by attending the Easter Jeep Safari every year, understand two things beyond basic off-roading: They know the purpose and value of pickups, and the torque diesel engines deliver. He was quick to note he was not guaranteeing that the coming 2019 Jeep pickup would have a diesel engine, but we're guessing that certainly would make potential Jeep pickup buyers happy.
We also asked about the relationship between Ram and Jeep — both part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — and how that plays out in behind-the-scenes discussions. Allen said the company sees Ram trucks as being all about the work and the tasks they can accomplish, having the right tool for the project at hand, he said. Jeep, on the other hand, is focused on adventure, boulder bashing and backcountry exploration.
Allen added that this new pickup should replicate what happened when Jeep came out with the four-door Wrangler just a little more than 10 years ago. At the time, he said, there were plenty of people who thought it couldn't be a real Jeep if it had four doors. But the four-door version brought Jeep a completely new audience: families. Allen sees the pickup truck doing the same thing for existing Jeep enthusiasts as well as people who will appreciate the capabilities of a Jeep with a good-sized cargo bed. He suggested there are plenty of families with a double-duty pickup truck in the driveway and a minivan in the garage. Giving those buyers a shot at finally getting a Jeep is what will lure half-ton fans into a Jeep pickup.
If you spend even a small amount of time in Moab, you'll see many four-door Jeeps with open rear cargo areas being used the way pickups are used: to haul gear and supplies. Because of the limited space, that cargo must be piled high behind the rear seats or stacked on top of a roof rack.
Clearly, if there was a longer-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited with a 6.6-foot bed, life could be simpler for quite a few Jeep enthusiasts.
"Giving our current customers more of what they want has always been one of our guiding strategies, and this pickup will be no different," Allen said. "It won't be too long [before] you'll see quite a few Jeep families towing their modified Wranglers behind a Jeep pickup."
However, when we asked about whether the heavy-duty truck guys are likely to be interested in this new pickup, Allen was clear — this is not going to be a vehicle to lure those HD guys away from their work trucks. They already have a Ram HD choice.
Other Truckmakers' Strategies
Allen also discussed the paths other truckmakers have taken.
He noted that he can see why Honda changed some of the Ridgeline's exterior design cues for the new model, adding that he likes that it now looks more like a traditional pickup without losing its core non-pickup buyers. It's no surprise that this intrigues Allen; the new Jeep pickup has a similar challenge. It must provide something less conventional than a 4x4 SUV and still appeal to Jeep's core buyers.
In terms of Nissan, Allen addressed the challenges of offering something for everyone in all the standard versions with two different but also similar pickup trucks in the light-duty Titan and stronger Titan XD. He declined to answer questions about a stronger, better-towing Jeep option package, but that wouldn't be a bad idea. Maybe a smart four-corner airbag suspension for flexibility in 4-Low and rigidity when in Tow/Haul?
Allen acknowledged that the Ford F1-50 Raptor is an impressive player in the off-road arena, essentially because of how "all-in" Ford allowed its engineers to go.
"My impression was, at the time, that Ford was an old man's pickup, so to offer that kind of package and personality to a new half-ton was quite smart," he said.
What About Special-Edition Jeep Pickups?
Naturally, that led us to wonder if this new Jeep pickup — or maybe some special editions — will give Jeep a wider appeal.
Certainly, it got us thinking about all kinds of special "flavors" a Jeep pickup could leverage, either reinforcing the existing Jeep personality (a Rubicon model perhaps?) or taking Jeep in a whole new direction with a Mojave Desert edition to better compete with the likes of a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 or Raptor on a Baja 1000 pre-run. And what about a Jeep pickup Hellcat? If our universe can accommodate a 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with a lowered suspension, 20-inch wheels and a race-launch setting, a Super Sport Jeep pickup can exist. But we might be getting ahead of ourselves.
Based on what Allen told us, it looks like we can expect to see quite a bit of the new Jeep Wrangler in the coming pickup, both of which will be built at the soon-to-be-refurbished plant in Toledo, Ohio. We'll get a chance to see the all-new Wrangler later this year, then the pickup prototypes likely by the summer of 2018. This should certainly shake things up a bit.
About the 2017 Easter Jeep Safari
Every year Allen and his team reveal a new set of "concept" vehicles to the Jeep faithful at the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. If there is a more Jeep-centric, Jeep-friendly place on Earth, we don't know about it. Everywhere you look in Moab someone is driving a Jeep, towing a Jeep, working on a Jeep or talking about Jeeps in a parking lot. This place is all about Jeeps, especially around Easter, mainly because the hundreds of nearby spectacular 4x4 trails make it a mecca for Jeep and 4x4 enthusiasts.
Allen always put quotation marks around the word "concept" because normal car designers make concept vehicles that look good in a studio or on an auto show stage or turntable. They are prototypes that will never put rubber to the road; they're typically shuttled from the studio to a transport truck to auto show floors. That's not the case with the safari concepts.
Allen takes great pride in the fact that the project vehicles for this annual event are drive-ready when they're shipped to Moab and other remote trail locations for Jeep events. Unlike 2016, there were no pickups at the safari — but that doesn't mean there weren't small cues in these concepts that might make their way to a pickup.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams; manufacturer images