Chrysler Group has taken the wraps off the latest iteration of the Jeep Wrangler sports-utility vehicle. But it will take a discerning eye to spot the subtle differences between the soon-to-be available 2011 model and those of its predecessor -- and that's the point.
The Wrangler, whose roots reach back to the original Jeep vehicles introduced in the early 1940s, has long been the symbol of the Jeep brand. To that end, the refreshed vehicle maintains the familiar round headlights, seven-slot vertical grill and simple rectangular taillights.
The biggest changes can be found on the inside, Chrysler says. An all-new interior features a redesigned instrument panel, new storage areas and upgraded materials. In addition, the steering wheel features controls for cruise control and hands-free phones, as well as redundant tuning and volume switches for the audio system. Heated power mirrors are a new option, as is a new body-color hardtop. Five new exterior colors will be offered, too.
More importantly for Chrysler, the new Wrangler will give its dealers another fresh product to showcase on showroom floors. Chrysler has had a dearth of new models in recent years, making it difficult to attract customers. A newly redesigned 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee went on sale last month and has helped to boost foot traffic at dealerships.
Earlier this month, Chrysler said overall sales rose 5% in July, compared to year-ago levels, with those at its Jeep division rising 19% to a total of 26,466 units. Jeep sales were helped in large measure by stronger demand for the new Grand Cherokee, sales of which rose 54% from July 2009 levels, but those of the existing Wrangler model rose 121%.
Chrysler said production of the 2011 Wrangler began last week at its plant in Toledo, Ohio, and the new models will begin appearing on dealers lots before the end of the quarter. Prices have yet to be announced, a spokesman said. The sticker price for 2010 models starts at about $22,000.
The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker, now run by Italy's Fiat, has committed to revamping three-fourths of its vehicle line-up by year's end. But Chrysler, which emerged from bankruptcy about a year ago, still has a long way to go before it can be said to viable once more. The automaker reported a net loss of $172 million in the quarter ending June. New models, however, could go a long way toward improving the company's chances of succeeding in the competitive U.S. auto market.