TOLEDO, Ohio — This month, thousands of UAW members at Fiat Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Complex will begin returning to work to build the next-generation Jeep Wrangler here.
But before they start attaching those disconnecting sway bars and big beefy axles, they'll get a chance to experience why such parts allow the Wrangler — both old and new — to do things few other SUVs can do.
While half of the massive Jeep factory here has been shut down since April to retool for production of the coming "JL" Wrangler, FCA has built a massive obstacle course on a highly visible corner of its property. It will allow employees to see firsthand what the Wrangler can traverse.
The track, which isn't open to the public, began operating in September with professionals driving small numbers of FCA employees over steep hills, whoop-dee-dos and giant logs through the approximately half-mile track, The Toledo Blade reported.
An FCA spokesman declined to comment on the track. However, Plant Manager Chuck Padden told The Blade that the course will give employees a better appreciation of what the iconic off-roader can do.
"We can certainly teach them about those features in a classroom or maybe with a video, but in the true spirit of Jeep — all about adventure and hands-on — we built the course, and they're learning about those capabilities of the Wrangler by driving it themselves," Padden told the newspaper. For now, employees are being driven around the course in current-generation "JK" Wranglers, which have remained in production on the south side of the complex while the north portion has been retooled from unibody to body-on-frame production. It is unclear whether the track will remain after production of the next-generation JL Wrangler begins on the north side in November.
The JL Wrangler is longer than the current version due, in part, to the addition of more fuel-efficient eight-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions. Styling will remain true to the current form with only slight modifications, such as a more raked windscreen, to improve aerodynamics as well as a new roof structure to meet current safety regulations.
Spy photos have shown that the JL Wrangler will retain its exterior door hinges and hood latches.
FCA has not announced when or where it plans to reveal the JL Wrangler.
Production of the JK Wrangler will continue into the spring while the JL line spools up production. After JK production is finished, the southern portion of the plant will be modified to begin production of the Scrambler pickup late next year.