by Larry Morton
Will future Jeeps be anything resembling the iconic, unique, and utilitarian "Universals" that have spanned the globe over the past 70 years or so?
The term "universal" was given to the Jeeps that carried on the traditions of the original military MA and MB workhorses. These would include the later CJ2, CJ2A, CJ3A, CJ3B, CJ5, CJ6, CJ7, CJ8, and the various Wranglers.
Common features of the Universal Jeeps are the "tub" design and shape of the body, the solid axles front and rear, body/tub on a separate frame (not a unibody), the flat fold down windshield, and the unmistakeable 7-slot grill. This concept has made Jeeps recognizable world wide for generations.
So, what will happen if the designers at Jeep (under who knows what corporate control) decide to scrap the most recognizable vehicle design in the history of motorized horseless carriages? Will any semblance of the original design remain, or will we have to look at a futuristic design with computer controlled everything such that we only have to get in and the Jeep will do the rest while we just sip an iced tea and enjoy the scenery?
Maybe this would be a good thing to some, but to those of us who grew up appreciating being in control of our vehicles, this would be outrageous if not downright sad.
I personally don't want to be able to push a few buttons and have my Jeep take complete control of a near vertical assent, automatically adjust its height for various terrain changes, or automatically shift, lock and steer for me.
Some of these futuristic ideas are already showing up in new Jeeps and other specialty vehicles. A new Jeep today may be equipped with automatic front sway bar disconnect, locking differentials, sophisticated automatic transmission and transfer case, all operated with the simple flip
of a switch or lever. Almost everything in a modern vehicle is controlled or operated by an on-board computer, and newer Jeeps are no exception.
The creature comforts in a new Wrangler are now rivaling passenger cars, and while there is nothing wrong with being comfortable in a vehicle there seems to be a trade-off especially when the original Jeep concept focused more on utilitarian function than comfort.
Jeeps are now being heavily marketed to commuters, women and families often playing on their unique versatility. This has been a successful strategy, and again I have no problem with it. The problem is that when Jeeps are "softened" to sell to a certain demographic the question arises "will simple, plain, tough utilitarian Jeeps continue to be available for those of us in the traditional demographic?...those of us who enjoy driving our Jeeps with our own developed skills?...those of us who don't mind turning a wrench and fixing or building up our Jeeps?...and, those of us who take pride in our skills and have fun sharing those skills?"
How much fun (and prudence) is it to drive off the showroom floor with a $45,000 fully equipped Wrangler and out to the toughest trail known to Jeeps of the past?
I guess the bottom line is that the future of universal Jeeps as we know them will depend on we the consumer and what we demand from the manufacturers. If we make no demands for an affordable Jeep with the utilitarian pedigree, the future of Jeeps may be something we won't recognize anymore.
However, the good news is that there are still plenty of great older rigs out there for us to tinker with, build to our hearts desires, and drive like nobody's business. In the meantime, I think I can handle that just fine.