Jeep chases green credentials

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 19 January 2020

How Jeep plans to become the world’s ‘greenest’ car brand.

When it comes to environmentally friendly vehicles, big bush-bashing four-wheel drives are hardly the first things that spring to mind. Which is why it is a little surprising that Jeep plans to become the world’s greenest off-road brand. 

Traditionally, off-road wagons are powered by diesel or petrol engines, often large-capacity V6 or V8s, and their CO2 emissions figures can be alarmingly high. Buyers of rugged SUVs and pick-ups generally have a love for nature and the outdoors, but they typically don’t prioritise fuel efficiency and low emissions when making a buying decision. Off-road capability, flexibility and customisation are generally the priorities.

But that is changing. With stricter emissions regulations rolling out globally, automotive manufacturers are working to reduce their overall fleet emissions across their model ranges and that means all vehicle types – including off-roaders – will have to be more efficient.

Currently, Jeep’s line-up is made up of SUVs of all sizes, with bigger models like the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, powered by big and powerful engines, the most popular. But things are changing at the iconic brand.

Global president of Jeep, Christian Meunier, says the brand is preparing for the wider rollout of electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving technology. 

“My job is to prepare the brand for the next 80 years. There’s a big revolution happening in the car industry today,” he says.

“How do we transform Jeep? How do we bring to that iconic brand all these technologies and make it the coolest, most technologically advanced brand and make it the greenest SUV brand in the world? That’s my job and that’s what I am focused on.”

Christian says future Jeeps will be able to go off-road in silence and that the modernisation of the brand would help attract a new type of buyer. 

So how exactly is Jeep planning to become the world’s greenest SUV brand? For a start, it will launch no fewer than 10 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and four battery electric vehicles by 2022. Eventually, all model lines will be offered with some form of electrification. The first cabs off the rank will be PHEV versions of the Renegade and Compass small SUVs, and the more rugged Wrangler. The new PHEV system in the smaller SUVs will consist of a 1.3-litre petrol turbocharged engine combined with a rear-mounted electric motor that will likely produce more than 150kW of power.

It is unclear when Jeep’s electrified models – which will carry the ‘4xe’ badge – will start to roll into Australian showrooms, but they will launch in the US this year.

Jeep Gladiator
Jeep Gladiator
Jeep Gladiator

If Jeep can become a truly green brand, surely other car-makers that are lagging when it comes to electrification can lift their game? 

The ball is already rolling for rival SUV brands. Land Rover has offered electrified powertrains as part of its model range for a while now, with hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of some models already on sale. More are on the way too, following the announcement of a tie-in with BMW to produce electric powertrains.

US-based start-up Rivian has revealed a fully electric SUV and pick-up that will go on sale stateside this year, while Tesla recently caused a stir with the reveal of its radical Cybertruck EV. Even the next-generation versions of America’s top-selling vehicle – the huge Ford F-Series pick-up truck – will be offered with an all-electric powertrain.

First drive of Jeep Gladiator

While we wait for the first of its electrified offerings, Jeep is focusing on what is currently one of the least environmentally friendly market segments – dual-cab pickups or utes. The all-new Gladiator pick-up, based on the Wrangler SUV, arrives on Australian shores in quarter two this year. It will appeal to fans of off-road performance utes like the Ford Ranger Raptor, HSV Colorado SportsCat and Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior. Pricing has not yet been announced but expect it to start from approximately $70,000.

Jeep held the international drive event for its new go-anywhere ute in the adventure capital of the world – Queenstown, New Zealand. More than just a tradie special, this ute is designed for those who love off-roading and getting dirt on their wheels. Customisation is the name of the game, too, with Jeep’s parts brand Mopar offering dozens of options to trick out your Gladiator and boost its off-road cred.

Jeep designed a drive route that took in some stunning locations around Queenstown, including the Rees Valley, where scenes from Mission: Impossible 6 were filmed. After three straight days of rain in the area, it didn’t take long to cover the Jeep in mud. In fact, parts of Central Otago were so drenched that roads were cut off. But with a water fording depth of 76 centimetres, the Gladiator easily got us through a section of road cut off from regular cars.

A rocky river pass was also no obstacle for the big Jeep. The way it tackles huge ruts, sharp-edged rocks and serious 4x4 tracks is impressive. Just when you think the Jeep might come unstuck, it keeps going.

The cabin is rugged, as expected for an off-roader, but the materials and overall quality of the interior marks a big improvement over many Jeep models, particularly the previous-generation Wrangler. There are storage options everywhere, including above the rollbar in the soft-top version. That’s right – the Gladiator is the world’s only convertible pick-up truck. If you don’t want the wind in your hair, you can opt for the hard-top.

We’ll have to wait for the Australian launch to give full drive impressions, as the examples we drove were left-hand-drive US-spec vehicles shipped to New Zealand for the drive event. But early impressions are that the Gladiator will appeal to Aussies who love the outdoors and want a vehicle that fits their lifestyle.

Tim Nicholson travelled as a guest of Jeep parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia.