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Published: Wednesday, 6/12/2002

Adventure-tour firms say Jeeps do the best job

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Sandy Korners Jeep Rentals takes tourists to spots including sand dunes in its fleet of 14 Jeep Wranglers. Sandy Korners Jeep Rentals takes tourists to spots including sand dunes in its fleet of 14 Jeep Wranglers.
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Jack Warfield tried custom-made dune buggies, four-wheelers, three-wheelers, and a variety of other vehicles to power his off-road tour business near Mears, Mich., but nothing compares to the Jeep Wranglers he started using seven years ago.

From about six hours northwest of Toledo, where the Jeep brand was born, Sandy Korners Jeep Rentals has 14 Wranglers to take people on guided tours over the sand dunes of Silver Lake, rocks of Drummond Island, and other choice spots.

Mr. Warfield's customers apparently approve: Revenues have shot up 72 percent in the last two years - 28 percent this year alone - as more outings were added.

“They are the absolute, 100 percent best off-road vehicle ever made,” said Mr. Warfield, who started the business with his wife, Alice, 20 years ago.

“This is the only vehicle that is capable of withstanding the off-road use that we have.”

The Jeep brand and different models of its icon vehicle, including the current Toledo-made Wrangler “TJ,” are used by a variety of businesses to take tourists to hard-to-reach sites in sometimes customized rigs.

Wine Country Jeep Tours in Windsor, Calif., for example, uses Jeeps to take visitors through vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties as well as to see the Pacific coastline and a redwood forest.

Colorado West Jeep Rentals & Tours of Ouray, Colo., rents Wranglers so tourists can explore ghost towns, waterfalls, and other scenery. And Carolina Safari Jeep Tours in Myrtle Beach. S.C., features a trip through Georgetown County, billed as the most haunted in the United States.

DaimlerChrysler AG doesn't profit from the businesses and is concerned that the name could suffer if the firms advertise Jeeps but use other, less capable sport-utility vehicles, said spokesman Heather May.

“We really do appreciate their loyalty to the legendary brand,” she said, adding that the company attempts to make them aware of the Jeep trademark.

Pink Jeep Tours of Sedona, Ariz., is one business that uses other SUVs with Jeeps. The 44-year-old business expanded into Las Vegas last year and has Chevrolet Suburbans for longer highway trips such as to the Grand Canyon, said Mike Herman, director of sales and marketing.

Still, most of the 53 SUVs used by Pink Jeep Tours are Jeeps, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Warfield of Sandy Korners, who has taken Chrysler officials off-road and has toured Toledo Jeep Assembly, wouldn't use anything else.

“No one else makes anything like Jeep.”



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