In Name . . . But Not in Price

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Jeep is bringing back the Gladiator – in name and spirit.

But not, alas, in price.

The resurrected Jeep pick-up (four doors this time rather than two – and a short rather than full-sized bed, as the original had) will be built off the existing Wrangler four-door and like its donor – and its ancestor – will be thoroughly Jeep. Meaning thoroughly capable. It will not be a light-duty “crossover” based on a front-wheel-drive passenger car. It will have ultra-rugged underpinnings and real four-wheel-drive, with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing.

Hubba hubba.

If you can afford it.

Jeep announced the other day that the new Gladiator will start at $37,040. A Rubicon will sticker for ten grand more and – Jeep says – a “fully loaded” Gladiator Rubicon will crest $60,000.

It takes the breath away.

The original 1962 Gladiator stickered for just over $1,900 – equivalent, in today’s Weimarian-inflated dollars to just over $16,000 if the same vehicle were offered for sale today.

Of course, such vehicles aren’t available today, partially because Uncle. No, entirely because Uncle.

The reason the new Gladiator costs what it does is because Jeep needs to make money on the thing – because of all the money Jeep’s parent company, FiatChrysler, isn’t making selling cars.

And not just Jeep, either.

It is no longer profitable to sell cars in general – because people in general aren’t buying them. And they aren’t buying cars anymore because most of them have been Uncle-ized into functional uselessness by federal fatwas, most especially those demanding 30-plus MPGs at the pump and successful passing of myriad crash tests, to demonstrate how saaaaaaaaaaaaaafe they are.

Americans once bought cars – almost exclusively.

Very few of them bought trucks – as the original Gladiator was – and no one bought “SUVs” or “crossovers” because such things didn’t exist.

There were a few 4x4s, models like the Jeep Willys and CJ, the International Scout, Toyota Land Cruiser and the original Ford Bronco – but these were as mass market then as an S-Class Mercedes is today. You saw one every now and then – usually in the woods, out in a field.

They were not seen commuting.

This was because they were 4x4s. Rough, rugged things designed to deal with conditions that would break cars. They were also very unlike cars, which even back then tended to have carpet and other luxuries usually lacking in a 4×4 – which had exposed metal floorpans, easier to hose out the insides.

This was sensible, horses-for-courses policy. Many families had a car and a 4×4, to use for weekend forays, Boy Scout hauling and such.

Along came Uncle.

He insisted American cars achieve close to 30 MPG – rising, ever since – and meet M1 Abrams standards of impact-absorbing capacity. This political fatwa’ing created an engineering dilemma, since M1 Abrams tanks tend to be heavy and thus not capable of going 30 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

Solution? Make cars smaller – which they have been, ever since. No more full-size sedans like they used to make ’em, nor the even fuller-sized wagons that were based on them.

Sedans seat five now, rather than six (or nine, as old wagons were able to) and have tiny (by historical standards) trunks.

Almost all of them are built on front-wheel-drive layouts and have four or six-cylinder engines. Almost none have V8s – or are built on a rear-drive layout – which renders them fine for commuting but useless for pulling a heavy trailer.

Americans gradually began to turn away from cars as the federal fatwa’ing caused them to be downsized and today cars are on the precipice of extinction in favor of what are styled crossovers and SUVs, which have the room (and capability) which cars used to offer but no longer do.

Even once-best-selling cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are slipping on the proverbial banana peel – because they are just too small – and not very useful – which they are because of Uncle’s fatwas.

Let’s look at some stats.

In 1970, a Camry-equivalent – a family sedan of that era – was the Chevy Chevelle/Malibu sedan. It was 201.1 inches long and could accommodate six people in its two rows of three-across seating. If featured body-on-frame construction, which made pulling a 5,000-plus pound trailer viable – and offered V8s all the way up to 454 cubic inches.

The trunk was enormous, too.

The 2019 Camry is a much smaller car, about a foot shorter overall and only seats five. It is built on a unibody/front-wheel-drive layout, which limits what it can pull. Its available V6 is very powerful – more powerful than the Chevy’s big-block V8 – but the car is much less capable.

And it is typical of today’s cars.

They are thus less practical and so harder to sell – and as a result, there is less money to be made selling them. The profit margin on the sale of a typical new car is so little – about 3 percent, net –  it’s hardly worth selling them. Which is why GM and Ford have decided to stop selling them almost entirely.

Toyota and Honda and the rest may follow, too.

Back to Jeep.

That is where the money is.

Jeep – and Ram trucks, which sells similar vehicles; i.e., not puny passenger cars – is the bread and butter of FiatChrysler, just as the F-150 and Expedition are where Ford makes money and the Chevy Tahoe and derivatives where GM makes its money.

Double digit profit margins.

The money made on the sale of these vehicles makes up for the money passenger cars aren’t making.

Which brings us back to Gladiator – and not just Gladiator. Note that the Wrangler it’s based on isn’t a cheap date, either. It’s almost $30,000 to start. Try and by a new 1500 truck with a V8 and 4WD for less than that.

Good luck.

So, the deal is, we’re being mulcted indirectly by Uncle –  via Jeep, et al – to make up the compliance costs imposed on cars by Uncle. The car industry’s lifeblood is the truck/SUV, so they sink their fangs deep and drink hearty.

It is why there is no longer such a thing as a $16,000 Gladiator – or even a $26,000 one.

The money has to be made up somewhere.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

. . .

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  1. Just saw something today that said the new Bronco is supposed to be solid axles front and rear.

    So the Wrongler will have some competition – ha ha ha!

    • Just to be clear, I am not the REAL dread pirate anonymous. The real anonymous is retired and living like a king in Patagonia. Though I am a decent fellow, I am no one of consequence, just a farm boy and local fisherman, currently unemployed in Greenland. But I am not left handed either, and no one to be trifled with. So get used to disappointment, and be careful because people with wheelbarrows cannot be trusted.

  2. Just a minor nit – the net price of the sport (basic) model is a bit less – $35,040 (from If I was in the market for one, that’s the one I’d get – manual door locks, manual windows, etc…

  3. Hitting peak price/affordability/vehicle trend, I think.

    Eric, so true about the editing out of any useful function with sedans: coupe like styling, fastback but no hatch back, gigantic consoles and A,B and C pillars, poor visibility.

    They are a turn off. The CUVs have what sedans used to have without thinking twice.

    But also in peril as the “coupe like” styling nonsense is infecting this segment as well.

    I predict the first brand that puts out an SUV with a proper trunk will sell a million of them. Rolls or Bentley, did it already IIRC.

  4. For the price of a low end new car, one could easily buy a fully restored classic and use it as a daily driver if one chose to do so. Sure, you wouldn’t be driving a 68 Charger or a 71 Cuda for that price, but an affordable classic in great condition can be had for around the $30,000 mark. That’s exactly what I plan to do as soon as my 2005 Stratus that I’ve been driving since 2006 becomes too expensive to repair.

    • Hi Anon,

      While I was preparing this article, I checked Hagerty (major insurance company for classic cars) value estimates for a restored classic Gladiator. You could easily buy a concours restored one – better than new – for less than the base price of a new one.

  5. Eric is right about conforming to Uncle Sam’s compromises. I have a 2010 V-6 Escape. Nothing exceptional but very capable. My neighbor bought a new Escape Titanium for stupid money. Less actual 4 hamster gas mileage, because it must always kick-down and spool up on any grade. And a lot less room to park your hips and Costco purchases. But it is an angular voice operated rolling entertainment looker brought to you by Microsoft.

    It would be an interesting experiment if Jeep tried to sell a basic radio, heater. A/C equipped $16,000 4X4 SUV / truck. Would the current crop of $1,000.00 IPhone addicts buy them? My guess is no.

    • Not a Jeep TM, but the Mahindra Roxor is exactly what you describe. “Off road” only and 45 mph though.

      My understanding is that there is quite a lot of interest in and demand for them. They need more dealers.

      • Yup, the Roxor is going to do very well in rural areas. If/when they enclose the cab, they won’t be able to build them fast enough.

  6. Just back of napkin stuff but probably not far off,

    Crate engine – $2000
    Crate trans – $2000
    Tcase – $1000
    Truck of frame car in good chassis condition – $4000
    Replace all bushes, shocks, brakes, tires – $3000
    Rebuild axle(s) – $1500
    Nice seats – $1000
    Miscellaneous – $2000

    So I figure I could (re)build a vehicle for less than $20k. A vehicle I would want with none of the crapola I don’t. Say a earl-mid nineties truck or full size car.

    Or I could get a new iVehicle with $6000+ worth of crap I don’t want, for at least 50% more. Written off if the $6000 worth of stuff I don’t want goes bad.

    Are people nuts?

    • Same here, only I’ve got three old 4x4s already to fix up, but none of them need all of that right now.

      In fact I just picked up two new CV axles this morning for the K1500.

  7. How much of a price premium can they squeeze from the “Jeep” label for a trucklet that doesn’t seem that much different from a Tacoma/Ranger/ Colorado?

    True, it’s based on a more off-road designed chassis than the others. But it’s extended truck bed wheelbase will cause it to forfeit much of its break over, and angles of approach/departure advantages.

    How many Jeep fans are willing to make that higher priced sacrifice, just to get a stubby little five foot bed?

    We’ll see.

    • I’m sure there is a niche market and they will sell quite a few of them without my help, but I just can’t see the use for them. Of course, neither do I see much use for a 4 door short bed Tacoma (who names a pickup after a shithole city?)/Ranger/Colorado. If I was gonna buy New Jeep I would just go with the Wrangler Unlimited. Heck the top comes off and I’m sure there is an aftermarket “pickup cab” top for them. Trouble is the new price and neither of these is going to get much better mileage (if as good!) as a 1500 pickup. You have to really be planning to do a lot of off road for the Wrangler/Gladiator to make sense (as if any new vehicle makes sense).

      Btw, just drove my 89 Chevy to the dump and back home (about 50 miles round trip) and now I remember how much I just plain enjoy driving a full size pickup. Even though this old thing is pretty much a junker, it’s still about the nicest thing I have to drive!

    • I don’t think that the majority of Jeep buyers honestly care about the actual off roading stats; it’s about the image. Nothing against them. For a suburbanite it’s arguably better than a wrangler as you can take it to Home Depot.

      • Hi Anonymous,

        I tend to agree. The reason these “SUVs” – as they have been branded (and marketed) sell so well has to do, in part, with their being very different than their ancestral role models, such as the original Gladiator. Those vehicles were basic – on purpose. They appealed to a small niche of buyers who didn’t want costly luxuries. They wanted a tough, rugged work-type vehicle that didn’t cost much – and that’s all.

        Just as the original muscle cars were spartan cars. The whole point of them was to make going fast accessible to people who otherwise could not afford such speed. So, things like AC and power options were rare – at first. Their absence not only kept the price down but helped keep the weight down – and that helped them go faster.

        Now, we have the luxurious, comfortable and easy-to-drive muscle car. Of course, it is now also an expensive muscle car.

        And we have the civilized off-roader; it can be driven to work every day and has no trouble handling highway trips of many hours, with the cruise set at 70.

        But it’s not cheap, either!

  8. If I didn’t get my Ram, I would of waited for the Gladiator

    Now instead, once I’m done paying for my comics, I’m instead gonna save up for a 90s rwd tuner to play with

    There’s the solution: mid 2000s the latest, otherwise earlier the better

  9. Eric, seems to me we are at the forefront of major problems for the consumer in the near future. $35K+ cars seems out of touch to most middle class earners, so they keep driving their old one, then because it’s probably got very high tech crap that is out of warranty. If they get hit with a $3-5K bill to keep it running, now their in a pickle. I guess that’s why we’re seeing 6-7yr loans now. Wow.
    Lots of blame to go around for sure.
    Loved that Pontiac station wagon pic!

  10. Even the Ford Ranger is expensive. I went on Ford’s website to price one. They START at like $24,600 or thereabouts! Add a couple of options, and you’re up to the high 20s or low 30s real quick like. And I don’t think that the new Ford Ranger really emulates the old one, either. I liked the old one; if it were still available, I’d consider buying one. I don’t care for the new one though, because it lacks the spirit and character of the original.

    • I am with you. The only pick up I was ever interested in was a 2007 Ranger, about three years old at the time.

      Bench seat, 5 speed, crank windows, rubber flooring, AC, no stupid console eating up valuable interior real estate.

      I almost bit, but it was Sunday and the lot was closed.

      Dad had an 88 Ranger XLT for 18 years, V6, auto. Never a problem they used it to travel everywhere. Said it was the best vehicle he ever owned.

  11. I have a coworker who has a 2018 Jeep wrangler rubicon, 4 door. It’s lifted and has some after market off roading tires. It has a lime green paint job. It sits in the garage in the winter and was only used once to help pull the coworkers truck out of a ditch. These are mall crawlers. Would you really want to offroad a new $37k car with loans to pay and don’t even talk about the $60k model.

    • I think thats the fundamental problem with cars now – who will want to offroad with (or take to the track) such an expensive car, especially when it has a loan the size of a deposit for a house. We see that problem here with pretty much everything Land Rover makes – once they were real offroad cars to go anywhere, or farmers cars. Now – they say they still are but the world will never know because as you say they will just go to to the supermarkets or take kids to school.

      To make matters worse, once they actually depreciate to the point where a normal person can afford – thanks to the gadgets they become so unreliable that nobody wants to touch them, particularly take them off-road!!

    • Hi Brazos,

      I have owned three Camaros – a ’78, an ’80 and an ’89. I loathe the new one; it is grotesquely proportioned; awkward to drive and – even for a muscle car – preposterously space-inefficient.

      I wouldn’t keep one if GM gave me one. I’d sell it and use the proceeds to give my ’76 TA the repaint it needs!

      • Agree Eric, but I tried it. I had it’s brother, an ATS I bought used, only cause I wanted to try a RWD car again after 10 trucks, and it was very fun, but I soon realized that it didn’t do life very well, and traded it in on a 300 V8 RWD, a proper sedan.
        The current Camaro is probably dead in it’s current configuration due to it being downsized so much to the Alpha chassis.

  12. Eric, eagerly awaiting to see GM’s 1st quarter numbers vs RAM. I expect a few heads to roll. In my neck of the woods in metro houston, there are tons of new 19 RAMs, very few 19 GMs.


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