The latest Jeep concept's commanding presence will strike a strong chord with Jeep loyalists while making minimal impact on the environment.
``The Commander is a sophisticated, upscale sport-utility vehicle,'' said Trevor Creed, Vice President, Advanced Design and Exterior Jeep®/Truck, Interior Design, Color and Trim. ``But from any angle, no one could mistake it for anything but a Jeep.
``This concept marries the industry's most advanced powertrain with one of the fastest growing market segments,'' Creed added. ``With fuel cell technology under the hood, this vehicle takes Jeep's pledge to 'Tread Lightly!' on the environment very seriously.''
Jeep designers predict that drivers will feel in command on the road, as well as off the beaten path. The sills of the silver-bodied Commander are approximately two inches lower than a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, the suspension can raise up four inches for off-road adventures, similar to last year's Jeepster concept. Overall height of 69.4 inches is equivalent to the Grand Cherokee. The fact that the Commander stands 80 inches wide overall, more than seven inches wider than Grand Cherokee, helps reinforce drivers' sense of security.
``Typically, high fuel economy concepts are mid-sized or smaller cars,'' said Bernard Robertson, Senior Vice President-Engineering Technologies and General Manager-Truck Operations. ``But we asked, 'Why not put the fuel cell in a larger vehicle that could really use a boost in fuel economy?''' Jeep engineers believe the Commander is the world's only four-wheel-drive vehicle that runs on electric power. The Commander borrows two EPIC minivan electric motors, one for each axle, that provide full-time, four-wheel-drive. For now, the Commander runs only on electric power as all technical challenges to turn gasoline into electricity onboard a vehicle have yet to be solved (see ``Jeep Commander Provides Status Report on Emerging Fuel Cell Technology'' for more information).
One of the ways Jeep designers helped compensate for the extra weight and cost of the on-board fuel refinery (as they nicknamed the powertrain) was to design the body with injection molded plastic. The concept was built in carbon fiber to simulate the weight savings that could be achieved with injection molded plastic. Shown in several concept vehicles created by the former Chrysler Corp., the plastic technology saves up to 50 percent body weight, 10 to 50 percent in manufacturing costs and is nearly 100 percent recyclable. The molded-in-color plastic also allows designers to create shapes not permitted with stamped metal, shapes such as the crisp lines that give the Commander its high-tech, machined surface appearance. The Commander's curb weight of 5,000 pounds is comparable to full-size sport- utility vehicles, despite the 2,100 pound fuel cell powertrain-about 1,000 pounds heavier than a typical sport-utility powertrain.
But how do you make a Jeep vehicle aerodynamic?
The Jeep design team developed several unique features to improve aerodynamics. A special heat exchanging cowl panel does double duty. First, it helps lower drag by improving wind flow over the windshield. Second, it draws hot air out from under the hood and aids the radiator in keeping the fuel cell system cool. At highway speeds, a rear spoiler deploys from the roof, similar to the 1998 Dodge Intrepid ESX2 concept. An ``on-demand'' roof rack can be activated when needed for luggage, although its normal position makes it flush with the roof. An underbelly pan smoothes the air flow under the vehicle.
Although the Commander is not nearly as sleek as a jet plane, the exterior designer, Steve Won, was still able to borrow some design cues.
``Commander has a very machined, high-tech feel,'' Won said. ``One of the details to reinforce that image was to recreate a jet engine's intake and exhaust appearance within the head lamps and tail lights.''
``Bauhaus design philosophy led me to the very clean, precise and mechanical appearance,'' Won explained. ``It still has true Jeep character, down to the traditional seven slot grille, but it is also ultra-modern and sophisticated.''
As with any Jeep, function is as important as form. The tow hitch cover folds down and doubles as a step for ease in reaching the roof. Side view mirrors have wipers and 180 degree convex mirrors to eliminate blind spots.
Stay tuned over the next few days as we bring you more info and pictures of the Jeep Commander...