JAN 13, 2020 9:56 AM
Years of planning and conceptualizing went into Jeep's first pickup truck since the early 1990s, and an announcement made Monday indicates Fiat Chrysler got it right with the newest member of the family.
The Toledo-built Jeep Gladiator was named the 2020 North American Truck of the Year at a news conference at the TCF Center in Detroit.
This is the 26th year of the awards, and the Gladiator, made at the Toledo Assembly Complex, captured the title in its first year of production. The coveted award was decided by 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.
"The Jeep Gladiator is not only the world's most capable midsize pickup, it's now the North American Truck of the Year as well," said Jim Morrison, head of the Jeep brand for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America. "This honor is a testament to our customers who demand the very best and the Gladiator delivers with all of the 4x4 capability and versatility expected of a Jeep vehicle."
Gladiator sells well in May; overall Jeep sales down
Fiat Chrysler unveiled Jeep's first pickup truck since 1992 in December, 2018, at the Los Angeles Auto Show. 2020 models began rolling off the Toledo assembly lines in April.
Jeep produced 4,190 Launch Edition Gladiators in March, an ode to the 419 area code. Those models were priced at $62,310, however the base Sport model with manual transmission starts at $35,000.
Former Toledo Assembly Complex plant manager and Jeep Fest organizer Jerry Huber was excited to learn the news of the award.
"It's a good reflection of the work force in Toledo," Mr. Huber said. "We featured it at Jeep Fest last year and the reception was overwhelming — probably the most excitement for a Jeep vehicle in a long time."
Jeep Gladiator Brand Manager Brandon Girmus said the formula for the Gladiator was to create a true pickup truck with all the characteristics of a Jeep.
"We like to say Gladiator is 100 percent truck, 100 percent Jeep," Mr. Girmus said. "We took the best attributes of our Jeep products — like the off-road capability, open air freedom, iconic design — and then we added real truck credentials. Gladiator can tow best in class 7,650 pounds, it can also haul a best in class 1700 pounds. That was really our formula from the beginning and winning this award says that we got it perfectly."
Jeep enthusiasts spent years clamoring for a pickup truck since the Comanche was discontinued in 1992.
Fiat Chrysler revitalized the Gladiator name from a pickup of the same name that roamed the streets between 1963 and 1972. Media reports initially called it the Scrambler, but Jeep executives said the Gladiator was more fitting because it was a true truck versus the Scrambler, which was a Wrangler with a small pickup bed.
Mr. Girmus said the response from Jeep enthusiasts regarding the Gladiator has been tremendous.
"It's something we teased out with a ton of really cool concept trucks over the last decade and a half, and every time we came out with one of those, the response was always overwhelming," he said. "Lots of people said things like 'Shut up and take my money.' So it's very rewarding to give those fans the Jeep pickup they've been craving for the last 25 years."
The Gladiator is equipped with several features never before seen on a Jeep, including a removable Bluetooth speaker and an off-road camera that projects what’s in front of the truck onto the radio screen. Mr. Girmus was tight-lipped on what’s next for the Gladiator, but said there is “cool stuff in the pipeline.”
A diesel-powered Gladiator will be available in 2020. The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is the same engine now available for the Wrangler.
Jeep sold 16,663 Gladiators in the fourth quarter, bringing the 2019 total to 40,047. Mr. Girmus said that number met the company's expectations, especially considering most dealerships didn't build sufficient inventory until August.
Like its Wrangler sibling, the Gladiator has removable doors, a fold-down windshield, and removable roof.
All versions are 4x4, with industry-leading crawl ratios for traversing tough terrain and the ability to traverse through 30 inches of water.
Last month, the United Auto Workers ratified a four-year deal with FCA. The contract calls for Fiat Chrysler to invest $160 million into Toledo's North Assembly Plant and $120 million to the south plant to keep manufacturing the Gladiator.
"Any additional investment is a positive indicator they see a strong future for the plant and the work force," Mr. Huber said.
UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower did not respond to a request for comment.
I think I saw one of these this morning. If manly-man, macho macho, and military-military are what's selling, this one should go out the door like free money.