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Jeep officials ponder early unveiling for new pickup truck

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    Michael Manley head of Jeep Brand, of Ram Brand and a member of the Group Executive Council for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, introducing the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

    The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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    Mike Manley, Jeep brand CEO, back to camera, interviewed by media after the introduction of the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

    The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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DETROIT — The upcoming Jeep pickup truck is scheduled to go on sale sometime in 2019, but there’s an ever-so-slight chance that it could break cover before the end of this calendar year.

Mike Manley, the chief executive officer of the Jeep brand, told The Blade in an interview Tuesday that officials are generally inclined to wait until closer to the truck’s on-sale date to unveil it to the public. But, Mr. Manley said, that decision hasn’t yet been made.

“That’s something Mr. Marchionne and I are discussing now, when do we want to show it?” he said, referring to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ chief executive Sergio Marchionne. “This has such an unbelievable pent-up demand to see it, we may exercise the option of showing it slightly early.”

The truck, which will be built in Toledo, will represent Jeep’s first pickup in more than 25 years.

Mr. Manley wouldn’t divulge much about the model, though he did say FCA is interested in a “degree of powertrain commonalization.” It’s not clear if that would include a plug-in hybrid system similar one FCA has confirmed for the Wrangler by 2020. Analysts expect it will, but Jeep officials have declined to say.

Whether the company shows the truck or not, this year is an important one for Jeep.

The first of the company’s next-generation Wranglers are just beginning to ship out of the Toledo Assembly Complex, and the company debuted a significantly refreshed Cherokee on Tuesday. Officials say both vehicles should start arriving in dealerships in volume by the year’s second quarter.

That should help the brand rebound a bit from 2017, when U.S. sales fell 11 percent to 828,522. It is worth noting, though, that reducing sales to daily rental fleets and focus more on retail customers was part of FCA’s strategy to boost profits and improve its vehicles’ residual values.

Sales of the Wrangler, which tend not to rely much on fleet sales, were essentially flat last year at 190,522. Fiat Chrysler officials are hopeful the new Wrangler model can rebound sales. 

Mr. Manley said he’s been pleased by both the buzz the new Wrangler has created and the early orders put in by dealers.

“Of all of the time I’ve been in this business, the early reaction of Wrangler has been amongst the best I’ve ever seen,” he told The Blade.

As of now, production of the prior-generation Wrangler JK continues in the south part of the Toledo Assembly Complex, though Mr. Marchionne said on Monday that should wind down by April.

Once that takes place, the company will get to work readying the plant for the upcoming pickup.

But even after it’s out of production, don’t expect to find giveaway prices on old Wrangler models still on dealer lots. 

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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