The American auto show season is drawing to a close. What began last fall in Los Angeles is now wrapping up in front of the biggest crowds in New York. And for the first time in years, there has been a dominant theme. In a nation that has the widest selection of new cars availale (except perhaps for Panama or Dubai, where one can import just about any car, it seems), the market appears to be ready for compact hatchbacks and electric vehicles to take the spotlight from unibody SUVs ("crossovers"). We thought the American market was ready for this shift to hatchbacks in the late 1970s, during the second OPEC oil crisis. But with peak oil on the horizon, and two dollar gallons of gasoline never to return, both manufacturers and consumers are embracing a more European / Japanese car market model by both necessity and choice.
Having said that, there is still a place for body-on-frame SUVs for those who need or want one. People still drive in the grand national parks out west. I plan to drive down sandy paths to hidden beaches in Vieques for the rest of my life. I suspect that one day, the vehicles that can traverse sand and boulders will be electric powered. But until then, big block V6 engines will have to do.
So with the retail price of gasoline now over $4.00 a gallon, what should the price of a new body-on-frame SUV be? Who in his right mind would drop $106,000 for a military officer transport, the Mercedes G Class? Yes, it is hand built in Austria, served as Pope John Paul II's "Popemobile," and has been virtually unchanged since its redesign in 1991. A toy for the rich, surely. But as Jay Z has proven, you can get almost the same look, a similar feel and superior off road capabilities in the $30,000 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. And now the Jeep Wrangler is better than ever. A body-colored hardtop gives the Wranger a boxier, more military look. The front windshield has been narrowed to a more Hummer shape. Jeep has listened to its customers. What used to be a highly unstable, unreliable vehicle, is now a beutifully boxy, sporty off roader that does exactly what the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes G can do at a fraction of the price.
In fact, considering that the Trail Rated versions have an automatic locking center differential, and the driver can disengage the sway bars for additional ground contact and articulation, the Trail Rated Wrangler is arguably the most capable off road passenger vehicle in the world.
If you're going to spend at least $2,400 in gasoline and $3,000 in insurance each year, why not get the superior product at the lower price? Most buyers don't take cost of onership into account. But consider this: in the UK, this vehicle, because it doesn't get a minimum of 30MPG on the highway, would be subject to an annual gas guzzler tax, in addition to the annual road tax. If it were a Land Rover or Mercedes, it would also be slapped with an annual luxury car tax. So if you really want a gas guzzler (or you actually need one), be thankful you live in a country that doesn't tax you annually to own one. Only in America. And Jeep is a great American original.
This year at the New York International Auto Show, Jeep unveiled the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Mojave Edition. Aside from the two exterior lizzard graphics and two interior lizzard stitching on the improved leather seats, I think it is the most beautiful Wrangler Unlimited yet.