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Published: Monday, 1/10/2005

Jeep concept pushes off-road ability

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler's president and chief executive, introduces the Jeep Hurricane. The concept vehicle's front tires can be turned inward and rear tires outward, allowing the Hurricane to spin in a circle, giving it a turn radius of zero. Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler's president and chief executive, introduces the Jeep Hurricane. The concept vehicle's front tires can be turned inward and rear tires outward, allowing the Hurricane to spin in a circle, giving it a turn radius of zero.
WADSWORTH Enlarge

DETROIT - The Jeep Hurricane concept doesn't have one of the powerful Hemi engines that DaimlerChrysler AG has successfully used to help reinvigorate its Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep brands.

Actually, the sport utility vehicle concept has two. One 5.7-liter Hemi sits in front and another is in back, together delivering 670 horsepower and the ability to hit 60 miles an hour in less than five seconds. And the Hurricane can be powered by four, eight, 12, or all 16 of the engines' cylinders, depending on the driver's needs.

Yet the Hurricane's off-road-focused performance features don't end there. Front tires can be turned inward and rear tires outward, allowing the Hurricane to spin in a circle, literally giving the rig a turn radius of zero. When off-roaders in tight spaces want to move sideways, all four wheels turn in the same direction, another example of the Hurricane's multiple four-wheel steering modes.

"It's the absolute extreme," Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler's president and chief executive, told The Blade yesterday.

"It can do ostensibly what no other vehicle can do."

The Hurricane was one of three concepts Chrysler unveiled yesterday during media previews for the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. The Cobo Center show opens Saturday and runs to Jan. 23.

The Jeep Gladiator pickup and Chrysler Firepower sports car shared the stage with the Hurricane yesterday. Chrysler is using the diesel-powered Gladiator concept to gauge public interest in again adding such a pickup to the Toledo-born Jeep brand. But it was the Hurricane that grabbed the attention of reporters.

Following the lead of the high-powered Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle and Chrysler ME Four-Twelve sports car concepts from previous years at the Detroit show, the Hurricane is billed as a look at how far the Jeep brand can go.

Dieter Zetsche, president and CEO of the Chrysler group of DaimlerChrysler AG, shows off the new diesel-powered Gladiator model at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. The auto show opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 23. Dieter Zetsche, president and CEO of the Chrysler group of DaimlerChrysler AG, shows off the new diesel-powered Gladiator model at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. The auto show opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 23.
WADSWORTH Enlarge

In the Hurricane's case, though, performance has more to do with off-road capability and maneuverability than speed.

Mr. Zetsche said Chrysler has built a "mule" test vehicle of the fully functional Hurricane concept. The two-seat SUV could be put into production for military uses or extreme off-roading, he said.

Jeep designers, who go off-roading together, were challenged a year ago to come up with a concept that embodied the four-by-four brand. Aaron Pizzuti's creation won out, and they spent the year working on the Hurricane.

"This idea literally came from me in the middle of the night," Mr. Pizzuti said yesterday. "There's so many possibilities with this concept."

An off-road enthusiast who drives a Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Mr. Pizzuti said his favorite feature in the Hurricane is "skid steer." The four-wheel steering mode keeps the wheels straight but powers one side in the front and the opposite in back.

The Hurricane's steering system isn't the only feature that lends itself to clearing and scaling obstacles while off-roading.

The Hurricane has a ground clearance of more than 14 inches, five inches higher than the most off-road capable existing Jeep, the Wrangler Rubicon. It has little front and rear overhang, giving the SUV nearly vertical approach and departure angles.

Interior amenities, however, are not part of the Hurricane formula. The Hurricane doesn't have doors - passengers must jump in over the sides - but it does have a global positioning system.

John Sgalia, Jeep's director of design, said some styling or other aspects of the Hurricane eventually may be found on production Jeeps even if the concept as a whole doesn't become reality.

"It's readily recognizable as a Jeep at any view," he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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