DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. product designers are creating a convertible four-wheel-drive vehicle to challenge the Jeep Wrangler.
The new vehicle is expected to debut in 2003 as a 2004 model and share a chassis with the redesigned Ford Ranger pickup, which is set to go on sale in 2002.
"It will be interesting to see Ford take on the image of the Wrangler," said Jim Hall, an analyst with AutoPacific, a Los Angeles-based automotive research firm.
Ford spokesman Ray Day declined to comment on the new SUV, other than to say the company has some exciting products in the pipeline.
Wrangler's lineage traces back to military vehicles used during World War II. With its flat windshield and sparse interior, it offers no-frills transportation in an age of heated seats and satellite navigation systems.
Last year, DaimlerChrysler's Jeep division sold nearly 90,000 Wranglers, up 6.3 percent from 1998. And the vehicles boast some of the highest owner-loyalty rates in the industry.
"I think there is a definite market out there," said Bill Demmer, president of Jack Demmer Ford in Wayne. "Just look at the resale value of the older Jeeps. It's just one more niche they are trying to fill."
Other automakers — most notably Suzuki with the Samurai and Sidekick — have tried to capture Wrangler's appeal with limited success.
"We are well aware of the competitive landscape," DaimlerChrysler spokesman Jan Zverina said. "I don't think anyone here wants to give up one inch of our competitive advantage."