Chrysler Group is preparing an all-new Jeep Liberty and Patriot replacement that will debut late next year, eventually going into production in the U.S., Italy, South America and China. As with the just released Dodge Dart, this new Jeep – thus far unnamed – will be based on a corporate platform from owner Fiat.
This, alleged, future Liberty replacement will be inches wider and longer than its Italian donor platform and will of course use traditional Jeep styling features such as a box-like body shape – though it is not evident here – and the famous vertical slotted grille that goes back to Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe cartoons that won Pulitzer prizes during WW2. Whatever the final sheet metal, this is the future of compact and mid-size Chrysler offerings – Dunne has that right.
The prototype shown here, according to Jim Dunne, reveals a modified Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback with what will be, at a minimum, – a new Jeep front end along with other sheet metal changes. It could also easily be – well, it more likely is – an Alfa Romeo bound for the U.S. as a 2014 model in AutoInformed’s view.
Evidence of the Alfa platform enlargement is seen in the “stretch marks” on this prototype with alterations in the sheet metal at the roof, trunk and rear door. This mule is a highly altered version of the platform known inside Chrysler as CUSW for Compact U.S. Wide.
The next Liberty will offer front-wheel drive as well as 4wd, AutoInformed is betting. This would be the first time a Jeep has deviated from a basic rear-wheel-drive chassis design with 4wd as an upgrade. The Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4 and the Ford Escape are in or near the Top Ten seller list in the U.S. currently, and have been for a decade or more using this setup. In the past, Liberty has offered two-wheel drive as standard in the base price model with 4WD as an option, but never a front-wheel-drive stand-alone model. Current Liberty models – production at Toledo ceased this past August for retooling – have 4WD only, and were selling at a rate of 4,000 a month, about 20% of the sales numbers of CRV and Escape.
While Jeep loyalists may scoff about an Alfa derived SUV because the brand is known for its car-racing heritage going back more than 100 years, Fiat is not without the ability to produce a truck as this Panda concept just revealed shows. The existing production Panda is a big hit in Europe, but could be one-size too small for the U.S. unless its replacement grows to the size of the Illinois-built Jeep Compass and Patriot.
On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the sales jury is still out on the Dodge Dart, which is the first among many new Chrysler Group vehicles to use a Fiat-designed and derived architecture. In Dart’s case the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, albeit with its dimensions made wider and longer for American drivers’ preferences for larger cars, is the engineering preview of the Jeep offering. Dart is important, first, because the C-car segment in the U.S. is large, with sales of roughly 1.6 million vehicles annually in a fiercely competitive field, and the cartoonist-designed Dodge Caliber it replaces wasn’t successful. The same can be said, maybe, about the Liberty.
The Dart and now the Liberty replacements are also significant because they are the first market test of Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne’s bet that combining Chrysler and Fiat – courtesy of billions in U.S. and Canadian taxpayer dollars – can result in a company that can successfully design, develop, assemble and sell vehicles under Fiat’s control. It is no secret that under the plan, the majority of Chrysler vehicles by 2014 will be based on ‘donor’ architectures, engines and other major components from Italian Fiat.
Marchionne has said Alfa Romeo and Jeep are the only two brands of Fiat and Chrysler with global potential because they are the most easily identified by consumers nearly everywhere. Everywhere means first proving the Dart can overcome Fiat’s dreadful quality reputation in the U.S, because otherwise the revival plan is going nowhere.