Right hand drive Jeep Wrangler utes (local-speak for utility or pickup truck) have gone on sale in New Zealand where the Thai-built Ford Ranger was best selling commercial vehicle last year with 6,818, units and 17% market share and also the top selling model overall, the first time a commercial vehicle has outsold a passenger model.
Fiat Chrysler's Jeep brand reportedly is considering a truck version of the next generation Wrangler; meanwhile the current double cab ute, with RHD, comes from American Expeditionary Vehicles (AEV) which, Fiat Chrysler New Zealand said, "has been producing extreme versions of the Wrangler for more than two decades". Its ute is called the Brute.
"There is no doubt that Kiwis love their utes, the sales figures clearly reveal that," said FCNZ CEO David Smitherman. "With this vehicle we can offer something no other ute can match: It's a Jeep, with everything that means from off road ability to unique styling and design. AEV have an exceptional reputation for the quality and integrity of their design and construction, so while it may not have come down the production line as a truck, it is and has everything that would be expected of a Jeep, a fact proven by it earning a Chrysler Design Excellence Award."
AEV vehicles are designed and developed in Montana. Based on the four door Wrangler, the Brute has a chassis extended 59cm ahead of the rear axle to boost the wheelbase and another 41cm in the rails behind the rear axle to extend the rear overhang to provide additional length for a useable load box. The entire passenger space is retained, providing seating for five, and is sealed with stamped steel body panels identical in construction to the original body. The design retains the original 'freedom panels' which are removable for open air driving.
The Brute's 153cm by 155cm injection moulded, cored composite load compartment is claimed to be stronger than steel and also considerably lighter and non-corrosive. A skid resistant coating protects the bed's interior and four integrated tie-down anchors keep cargo in place. With 25 litres of integrated water storage, built in recovery points, and heavy-duty mandrel bent steel tubing, the rear bumper is said to provided superior load bed protection both on and off road. Under the load bed is a hidden under mount tyre carrier for the spare wheel, lowered by a hand operated winch.
AEV fits its own DualSport suspension system claiming a true dual purpose suspension system "extremely capable off-road, while also offering unparalleled performance and handling on the road".
The model was launched in New Zealand with Sport and Rubicon specifications, powered by the FCA's 209 kW Pentastar V6 engine with five speed automatic gearbox. The Sport has Command Trac 4WD with shift on the fly low range part time four wheel drive with a 2.72:1 low range ratio. The Rubicon has Rock-Trac 4WD with a 4.0:1 low range ratio. The Rubicon also has a Dana 44 heavy duty front axle, Tru-Lok front and rear electric locking differentials, body protecting rock rails, an electronically 'disconnectable' front anti-roll bar for extra axle articulation and automatic headlights.
Prices range from NZ$114,990 (US$77,000) excluding on-roadcosts, while the Rubicon version is NZ$124,990 (US$83,600). Local warranty is three year/100,000km (60,000 miles).