Thursday, January 29, 2015

GMC Considering a Wrangler Competitor?

Autoblog is reporting on a Wall Street Journal article that states General Motors has been soliciting feedback from their GMC dealers regarding their interest in a Wrangler competitor.  With the Wrangler's ever-increasing popularity, it's no wonder why GM wants a piece of that pie.  This would be a big step forward in the capability of anything they have to offer.

I've written before about the few competitors that the Wrangler has in the United States, and what led me to choose a Jeep over any other option.  I've also shown how much stiffer the Wrangler's competition is in foreign countries, where the appreciation for real 4x4s is still recognized by auto manufacturers.  Ford's recent purchase of Brazil's Troller brand gives them an opportunity (if they're smart) to market the awesome T4 in the United States as a true Wrangler competitor.
Ford Troller T4
GM must finally be realizing that the market for real offroad vehicles is underserved.  Admittedly, they used to own the Hummer brand, but they ran it into the ground in their pre-bankruptcy incompetence due to their mistake of designing and marketing the vehicles to the wishy-washy faux-by-four mallcrawler crowd rather than the brand-loyal enthusiasts in the offroad market.  Jeep flourished where Hummer failed miserably.  With the popularity of Jeep's vehicles (not to mention the Ford Raptor) along with new competitors such as Toyota's TRD Pro versions of its Tacoma, 4Runner, and Tundra, GM is left looking a bit emasculated with nothing more than IFS lowrider pickups and bloated soccer-mom SUVs.

Hummer's 2008 HX Concept

Without the Hummer brand, GM's next best option is to build their offroad-oriented 4x4 for their GMC Truck brand.  If they want to make it a serious competitor to the Wrangler, they're going to have to focus on offroad ability first and foremost.  It's very easy to make a proper 4x4: just follow the Wrangler's basic recipe of a stout ladder frame, flexy suspension, heavy-duty solid axles, and a low-range transfer case.  There are a million ways to screw it up, however: for instance, the Hummer H2 with its tough-looking body and merely a Chevy Tahoe chassis.  Hopefully GM will learn from its past mistakes and actually produce a vehicle that people want to buy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hybrid Wrangler a Possibility?

A lot of fuss has been made regarding the new generation JL Jeep Wrangler that is under development for the 2017 model year.  Everything from suspension design to diesel power to aluminum construction to even the factory in which it will be assembled.  The latest gossip is reporting that the Wrangler could get a hybrid option.  Although suspension (solid axle versus independent) is a more critical feature for offroad performance, Jeepers have still expressed strong aversion to a hybrid powertrain.  Hybrid cars have certain popular connatations, but I view hybrids as actually falling into three main categories:

Weird Al stereotypes the Prius owner

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tutorial on the Many Uses of the Hi-Lift Jack

Bruce Elfstrom of Overland Experts has written for Expedition Portal an extremely thorough tutorial on the many uses of the ubiquitous Hi-Lift Jack.  This versatile tool is carried by nearly all offroaders in spite of its size and weight because it serves numerous purposes beyond that of a simple jack: it's also a winch, a clamp, and a spreader.  People have even used their Hi-Lift Jack's handle as a tie rod sleeve for an emergency field repair of their broken steering linkage!  Hi-Lift supplies some basic instructions with their jacks, Elfstrom's tutorial is a much better guide because - as with any powerful tool - the Hi-Lift Jack can be dangerous when used improperly.

To take full advantage of the jack's functionality, Hi-Lift makes an Off Road Kit that includes the chains, clamps, shackles, a tree strap, a winching tensioner, and other purpose-built accessories.  Most 4wheelers get stuck in soft soil, mud, sand, or snow, so the jack's Off Road Base is another worthwhile accessory that improves the jack's performance.  In addition, I also use a polyurethane Handle Keeper to prevent any rattles and keep the jack's handle from coming loose during transit.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Toledo Builds its 500,000th Jeep of 2014

The Toledo Blade reports that Jeep's Toledo Assembly Complex has set another new benchmark with the factory's assembly of its 500,000th Jeep for 2014.  The achievement comes on the heels of a long string of records as the Jeep brand (and its two best-selling and most offroad-capable models) continues to grow in popularity.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jeep Crash with a Dump Truck

A recent crash in the South Middleton Township of Pennsylvania involving a Class A dump truck and a nicely built Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited provided some jaw-dropping photos.  The owner and driver of the Jeep is reported to have walked away with no major injuries.  The Jeep, unfortunately, is a total loss.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aluminum Construction Doesn't Preclude Body-on-Frame Design

Some exciting news on the 2017 Aluminum Wrangler has emerged after reports that the next generation of the iconic Jeep may not only switch to a unibody platform but may also be relocated away from its historic assembly plant.  Putting many fears to rest, Automotive News is reporting that the shift to aluminum construction may not necessarily mean the next generation of the Wrangler is ruined.

The story elaborates on the challenges presented by the necessary shift to aluminum construction: the Toledo assembly plant does not have aluminum tooling, and it is already operating well beyond its intended production capacity, so the time and expense required to replace the steel manufacturing equipment with that for aluminum is prohibitive.  Most automotive bean-counters would simply redesign the next Wrangler to use an aluminum unibody produced in one of Fiat-Chrysler's other, underutilized assembly plants.

Thankfully, it seems that Fiat-Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marcchione realizes the value of the Wrangler's iconic capability and durability to the brand.  After all, Wrangler production simply can't keep up with demand, and sales of every other Jeep vehicle (no matter how limited their offroad capabilities) benefit from the Wrangler's priceless reputation.  It is absolutely critical that Jeep preserves the Wrangler's Jeep-ness, so Toledo's mayor D. Michael Collins and Ohio's governor John Kasich made a stern conference call earlier this month with Marchionne and arranged a face-to-face meeting.  Details have not yet been revealed, but the discussions must have been a success because only twelve days after that meeting, Toledo’s city council agreed to spend $9.4 million to purchase more than 32 acres of land directly west of the Wrangler factory for its possible expansion.

Aluminum construction can be a real benefit to the Wrangler's capabilities, but only if it is used in conjunction with a heavy-duty ladder frame and the requisite pair of solid axles.  Regarding this latest development, Jeep spokesman Todd Goyer declined to comment on the next Wrangler.  However, he insisted that the next generation Wrangler “will be the most capable Wrangler ever.”  We're all hoping this is true.

Identity of National Parks' Serial Vandal Revealed

Thanks to the vigilance of internet sleuths and National Park Service employees, the identity of the narcissistic vandal named "Creepy Tings" or "creepytings" has been identified as that of Casey Nocket from Highland, New York.  The story quickly went viral due to the world's unanimous outrage over her urban graffiti defacing natural wonders.  News reports from ABC News, CBS News, USA Today, Reuters, Newsy, Reddit, National Parks Traveler, The Weather Channel, The Denver Post, and countless others quickly spread the word about her 5-state tour of destruction in the following National Parks: Yosemite National Park; Death Valley National Park; Crater Lake National Park; Zion National Park; Canyonlands National Park; Grand Canyon National Park; Sequoia National Park; Kings Canyon National Park; Joshua Tree National Park; Rocky Mountain National Park; Bryce National Park.  She also proudly defaced Colorado's historic Ginn Mill and trampled prehistoric petroglyphs in Joshua Tree National Park.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cantina for the 'Con 10th Anniversary

2014's Labor Day Weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the Rubicon Trail Foundation's Cantina for the 'Con.  What started as - and has continued to be - a grassroots fundraiser to preserve and protect the Rubicon Trail has become one of the 4x4 community's biggest and most famous events.

Held every year in the dam spillway at the Loon Lake entrance to the Rubicon Trail, the Cantina is more than just a fundraiser; it is a full weekend party that provides opportunities for camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, and of course 4-wheeling on the Rubicon Trail.  Vendor booths give attendees an opportunity to meet with a wide variety of aftermarket parts companies; representatives from several land use organizations educate trail users on proper etiquette that helps keep the trail open; many 4x4 clubs work together to cook trail-saving tacos and nachos; and a gigantic raffle with nearly countless prizes ensures everyone is a winner since proceeds go directly toward supporting the Rubicon Trail.  To date, over $300,000 has been raised to preserve and protect the Rubicon Trail from damage and closure.

This year's Cantina was a particularly special event because the Rubicon Trail Foundation held a ceremony to honor the 4x4 club that started it all a decade ago:  TDO - This Dysfunctional Organization.  In addition to presenting the club with RTF's "The Rock" Award, the reveal of a bronze plaque permanently mounted to the Loon Lake Information Kiosk was humbling to all in attendance.

My friend Shana Whitford wrote her own article for Driving Line that gives another perspective on the event with some of her great photography.  A collection of my photos from the 2014 Cantina for the 'Con are assembled below, and as you can see no trip to Cantina is complete without a drive on the world-famous Rubicon Trail itself; camping partway in at TDO Camp with (who else?) the TDO Club was a perfect way to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Cantina:

A Message From Your Favorite Trails

It's election season, so political issues are at the front of everyone's mind.  OHV advocacy is one issue from which we must never back down, since motorized recreation is shown little to no love by politicians as the anti-access faux-environmentalists' incessant haranguing and lawsuits lead to the tragic closure of millions of acres of public lands.  With that in mind, United Four Wheel Drive Associantion's Jerry Smith wrote the following story from the Jeep trail's perspective:
I am one of your favorite “motorized” trails out here on some of your public lands.  It gets lonely out here, all alone since the federal government closed me to motorized travel.  They closed me and won’t tell me why… hell, they won’t tell you why if you ask them to.  Have you even asked??  Do you even care??

I used to enjoy all the emotions I could instill in you as you rode along my length. 

Crossing the washes, deep with sand and rocks of varying size in the bottoms seemed to bring a smile to everyone’s face… once you were safely through them.  I liked the apprehension look as you entered the washes not knowing if you were good enough to make it or not.  It was always something of a thrill to watch as I brought your customized, one of a kind vehicle to a halt while you got out to look the situation over.  That was a smart move you know?  I had that trap set to stop any vehicle.

You outsmarted me on that one though.  Moving those rocks must have taken quite an effort on your part.  That rushing, flooding water had a lot of power behind it to place those rocks to block your progress.  I admire your persistence.  Where was that persistence when it came to resisting the government when THEY decided to close me??  I could have used a little help you know?
You see, those land managers don’t listen to me much.  I am just a commodity to them… something to be managed is all.  They don’t give one damn about me as a resource. 

I’m just a maintenance expense that they can’t cover, and a source of “conflict” between user groups, so they take the easy way out and close me for now… just waiting for the time to come when they can take me out of their inventory, drop me from their maps, and then I am included in another “Roadless Area” so the “Preservationists” can name me to another Wilderness Study Area or similar entity.  Why don’t you care???

Didn’t I provide some special times in your memory?  Wasn’t I something to cherish?  Didn’t the times you rode my twists and turns, my hills, valleys, and steep off camber climbs mean anything special to you?  They sure were to me!!
I loved seeing the looks on the faces of your family as they questioned the sanity of traversing me.  Scaring some until a tear formed in their eye.  UNTIL --- they saw the panorama at the top of the rise that took their very breath away.  Let me tell you, seeing that tear of fear turn to one of exuberant joy was a major thrill for me.  It just made me want to quake with overwhelming feelings of happiness… but I did not want to scare all of you away.

There has always been a strong connection with you and me.  Your times on my back were very special to me.  I miss you so very much.  I thought YOU cared about me.  How could you just let them take me away??  Was it something I did?  Was I not enough fun and excitement for you… were there not enough great memories?  What did I do wrong??  I’m sorry I let you down!

Now that you must go elsewhere for your vacations and weekend trips, I hope you know that those trails will be more crowded because they are the few left for your pleasure… FOR NOW!!!

Oh yeah, didn’t they tell you?  They are already planning to close them too.  You’re “overusing” them and it is causing too much environmental damage that they can’t afford to fix.  Guess what… that short drive to them will cost you two or three times as much to get to the next trail that they will leave open ---- until that one is “overused”!!  Get the picture?  It’s a cycle that YOU have allowed to grow into a repetitive sequence.

Your neglect to protect me has allowed the Preservationists to win every battle… not that YOU fought for me. 

Did you write to the government agencies about how you loved me?  Did you call them and voice your concern for me?  How about all those meetings that you could have attended?  Did you take an hour or two to support me??

How about the organizations that had people there representing YOU?  Did you even respond to their pleads of support?  Did you even rejoin them this year?  You know how much your membership means to them in both your numbers being represented and the few dollars that help them carry YOUR voice into battle don’t you?  They work hard for YOUR ACCESS to YOUR TRAILS you know?
Is it right that the very few who fight for YOUR ACCESS to YOUR TRAILS should do it all at THEIR expense?  Don’t you care at all that I could have still been providing you and yours the thrills and enjoyment that I once did?  Hey, I miss you!!!  I want you back!!!  Will YOU DO SOMETHING to get me back??  PLEASE!!

I know that your time is limited.  I know that you don’t think your voice is heard.  I know that you don’t like writing letters, attending meetings, learning the land management laws, and all that stuff.  But you CAN do something.  Really!!

Donate to the organizations that do work their hearts out on YOUR behalf.  Make it easier for them to travel to meetings, pay for their expenses doing what YOU don’t wish to do… but MUST BE DONE!!!  Their personal money can only go so far before it can no longer be counted on.  They have families to care for just like you… THEY are supporting YOU.  Can you do less than help them do that???

I want to be there for you!!  Will you be there for me??

Your favorite trails… I miss you!!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

AEV JK Brute Doublecab: The Ultimate Overlander

Expedition Portal, the online presence of Overland Journal, has extensive seat time behind the wheel of overland vehicles of all types, in every corner of the globe.  Having experienced Land Rover Defenders and Discoveries, Range Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Mercedes-Benz Geländewagens, Nissan Patrols, and numerous other 4x4s, they have declared American Expedition Vehicles' Jeep Wrangler JK Brute DoubleCab The Ultimate Overlander.

Citing the expanded cargo and weight capacity along with the Wrangler's world-famous offroad capabilities, they build a strong case for the DoubleCab.  Although it is not a regular-production vehicle, it is one that can be bought from many Jeep dealerships, directly from AEV, or even built at home by the very skilled.  And unlike its most directly comparable competition (Land Rover Defender 130 and Toyota Hilux) it is relatively easy to source in America and is designed to cruise our interstates comfortably and at a high rate of speed.

The article goes deep into defending its assertion that the Brute DoubleCab is The Ultimate Overlander, but it also acknowledges that "ultimate" and "affordable" rarely go together in the same sentence.  The starting price for the vehicle is $30,000 on top of the cost of a Jeep Wrangler.  There are certainly countless less-expensive vehicles available, but none can offer the broad range and high levels of performance benchmarked by the JK-based Brute DoubleCab.