And so it begins. The world is transitioning to electric cars, and Jeep – a brand that has been riding the coattails of solid-axle off-road vehicles since 1941 — is going to have to figure something out, because electric cars with solid axles just don’t make sense right now. Before you worry, no, the 2024 Jeep Recon is not going to take place of the legendary Jeep Wrangler, but it is going to represent Jeep’s very first “true” fully electric off-roader in the brand’s 81 year history. Here’s a first look at the Jeep Recon.
“The Wrangler stays the Wrangler — the icon of the brand…. the best of the best of the best is the Wrangler. Most capable” said Jeep brand CEO Christian Meunier at a press conference yesterday. This came after I asked whether the new Recon would be replacing the Wrangler, and after Stellantis’ head designer Ralph Gilles talked about how that very question meant his team had done its job right. The Recon, he said, was meant to take inspiration from the Wrangler, and you can sort of see that in the design, with the squared-off greenhouse, rear-mounted spare tire, and removable doors:
I asked my question not because I truly think the Recon will be able to fill the Wrangler’s shoes off-road — and I certainly didn’t think Jeep would just give up the Wrangler name — but I do think the Wrangler as we know it today just isn’t going to work as an EV, especially not near-term. And if the Wrangler is going to go EV, I could see it becoming something like this Recon. I’ll go more into that in a second, but first let me tell you what I know about the Recon (it’s not much).
It’s a fully-electric off-road vehicle capable of crossing the Rubicon Trail, per Jeep. Plus it can apparently “reach the end of the trail with enough range to drive back to town and recharge.” It will come with an electronic locker, skid plates, tow hooks, and “aggressive off-road tires,” plus a power sliding top, removable doors, frunk, and removable glass. That last bit is quite interesting; check out this photo showing the missing glass in the Recon’s cargo area.
Per Stellantis, the Recon represents a “Reinvention of the modern American icon,” and sits on the Stella Large alongside the Wagoneer S EV, which I’ll write about here in a moment. (You can learn more about the STLA or “Stella” platforms that will propel Stellantis in to the future here). Customers can reserve their Recon in early 2023, with the vehicle hitting the market in 2024.
It’s Not Going To Be Easy To Build An Electric Wrangler
Okay, so now that I’ve dished out the limited info I have about the Recon, let’s talk about the tricky spot Jeep is in right now.
The Jeep Wrangler — the vehicle that all other Jeeps emulate or draw inspiration from in some way or another — is a solid-axle off-road vehicle with huge knobby tires, tons of ground clearance, and the aerodynamic profile of a barn. These attributes don’t work very well in an electric vehicle, because they lead to fairly high Vehicle Demand Energy, i.e. energy needed to just shove the vehicle down the road. In other words, the Wrangler is, by nature, not a very efficient machine. The current gas Wrangler made some improvements over its predecessor, and can score MPG figures in the 20s. This isn’t great, but gas is cheap enough, blow-molding a tank to take more fuel is simple enough, and a customer can fill up in two minutes.
An inefficient overall vehicle design catered towards off-road capability works as an ICE, but in an EV, it causes all sorts of issues. Because it takes so much energy to get down the road thanks to those tires and aerodynamic inefficiencies like high ground clearance and sharp corners, range decreases just like it does on a gas car. But increasing the “tank size” on an EV is both heavy, expensive, and environmentally taxing. I could probably dig up some ABC coefficients from the EPA and roughly calculate how big of a battery, approximately, one might need in order to score 250 miles of range on a modern Jeep Wrangler (I’d have to make a few assumptions); suffice it to say: it’d have to be big. And thus, the vehicle would have to be expensive and heavy and filled with precious metals.
The current Wrangler as it sits ain’t cheap, but given how simple it is (it’s a body-on-frame vehicle with the same engine and transmission as darn-near every other Chrysler), you can bet the margins are good, and Jeep doesn’t want to give up on that.
The other issue is the solid axle, which is a key ingredient that has alway made the Wrangler the king of low-speed off-roading over uneven terrain. There’s a reason that the 4×4 museum in the UAE only includes solid-axle vehicles, and there’s a reason that, as good as the new Ford Bronco is off-road, it seems per comparison tests that the Jeep still has an edge. The solid axle has always been the Wrangler’s trump card (especially since it makes lifting the vehicle easier than if it had independent suspension).
The problem is: An electric car with a solid axle is tricky for a number of reasons that our suspension engineer Huibert Mees discussed in his article “The Surprising Ways Electric Car Suspensions Are Different Than Gas Car Suspensions: Ask An Engineer.”. I’ll quote him heavily here:
Batteries take up a lot of space and are heavy so you want them to be mounted low and as close to the center in the car as possible. Unfortunately, that’s also exactly where the driveshaft is. Having a moving driveshaft would take away too much space for the batteries which would hurt range too much. A perfect example is the new Ford F-150 Lightning. Ford ditched the live axle (shown above) and put in a new independent rear suspension just for the Lightning (see below). I think Ford knew it could never make the Lightning work well enough as an EV without going the extra mile designing a whole new suspension. Believe me, Ford would never have spent that kind of money on the F-150 if it didn’t believe it was absolutely necessary. I think you will see this happen more often as existing vehicles are converted to EV.
Huibert’s article goes on, saying:
The other reason is that a traditional differential with the typical ring and pinion gear — a pairing that turns the power 90 degrees — is not a very efficient beast. The ring and pinion depend on a sliding action between the gears in order to minimize noise, and this adds friction. Friction is an energy loss and EV’s are all about minimizing energy losses so that you get as much range out of a battery charge as possible.
I will say that there are some companies out there developing electric motors that are mounted on a live axle (see below) but as a suspension engineer, I would be very concerned about the increased mass from these motors. Unsprung mass is the enemy of good ride and handling and is the reason live axles are not in use much anymore. Increasing unsprung mass with the addition of an electric motor to the axle would be the wrong way to go, in my opinion.
Obviously, right now the Wrangler is sticking around with its gasoline, diesel, and plug-in hybrid powertrain options. The latter is a great compromise that allows the Wrangler some amount of EV-only driving while maintaining the JL’s tough and highly capable drivetrain architecture. Jeep did show a Magneto concept car at the Easter Jeep Safari, and though it had a solid front axle, it was basically a Wrangler with an electric motor hooked up to the manual transmission. I can’t imagine something this crude would work as a production vehicle, as it severely compromises battery packaging.
The Recon Looks Like It Should Do Well Off-Road
Without knowing much about the Recon’s features, and without having driven it, it’s hard to say how good it will be off-road, but one can learn a lot from pictures (because when it comes to off-roading, geometry is king, as I often say). The recon’s short overhangs look great, as do its big tires; I have concerns about those low rocker panels, but hey, you’ve got to fit batteries under there. If I had to guess, this thing — in highest trim — will utilize air suspension to offer decent highway range while still maintaining good ground clearance off-road. This is the direction I see most “hard-core” off-roaders moving as the world becomes more electric. We’ve already seen it on the new Defender, which is a gas car; EVs will make the pull towards efficiency (i.e. reduced Vehicle Demand Energy) even more important, and the best way to do that while still maintaining good off-road capability is air suspension (see Rivian R1T).
I still remain on the edge of my seat to see which direction the Wrangler will go if it does become fully electric in the future. The obvious guess would be to say that it will go to independent suspension with air bags and big tires (probably like this Recon), but I’m hopeful that Jeep pulls something cool out of its hat, and the Wrangler — if it does go fully electric — somehow keeps a solid axle. If only because it’s awesome.
All Images: Jeep
Replace each pumpkin with a dual output motor. You don’t need the 90 degree pinion if the motor is inline. The rest of the suspension can stay the same at that point.
Problem is the unsprung weight as mentioned above. If the motor is mounted in the middle of the axle it has to move with it.
Hi. Late to the party here, but obviously… I have to comment, or pose a question rather.
Hopefully, this doesn’t get completely buried because I think it’s fair to be curious about this.
Mr. Tracy, with all the talk about drive shafts and batteries not being able to coexist in harmony, would it not make really good sense to have in-wheel electric motors at all four corners, especially for off-road machines such as this?
It would allow each wheel to rotate at different speeds completely independent of each other. One wheel in the air? No problem. That wheel gets no juice until it’s back in contact with the ground. Sharp turn? The two outside wheels turn faster. Or do the tank turn trick if you need to turn on a dime. There’s no drivetrain friction to worry about because the torque is generated at the wheel where it’s needed.
Is it just too cost prohibitive at this point? What’s the deal? It seems the obvious answer to me, but I’m not an engineer.
I think there are a few companies out there with this kind of in-wheel motor. Elaphe is one of them. https://in-wheel.com/en/technology/
My dream set-up would employ in-wheel motors, wrapped in off-road Tweels, with an air-suspension. Am I crazy, or does that not sound nearly perfect?
(Also, bring back some wombats or koalas if you can. Thanks.)
Hub motors increase un-sprung weight and generally make less power
But is the increase in unsprung weight substantial enough to completely offset the benefits?
And while they do generally make less power than your typical electric gear motor, wouldn’t having four(!) of them make up for that power deficit?
Rivian already does this with 4 motors but they are mounted to the chassis and drive the wheel using a cv axle. The unsprung weight is a huge concern. Ever drive something with solid axles on washboard roads compared to something with front and rear independent suspension? With similar tire sizes, the solid axles drive terribly due to the unsprung weight.
There is also the exposure to shock forces at a wheel. An off-roader would eat hub motors between this and higher exposure to the elements.
Lastly, with one motor per wheel (like the rivian) you lose your ability to put high torque down to one wheel like you have with lockers. A Rivian with~225 lbft per motor can only put down those 225 maximum to one wheel. For example, my car makes about 300 lbft and has a rear locker. It will break something in the drivetrain before it actually does this, but after the transfer case (in my experience 1st gear high range and evs are similar gear reductions) my vehicle is able to put like three times that to one wheel. And it is 3000lbs lighter…
Just now seeing your reply. Good insights. I’m guessing you drive a diesel Toureg or maybe a Cayenne? I’ve often been tempted to get a cheap Cayenne for off-road duty. They are a rarity where I live, where we have very crummy roads that I used to drive in my wife’s old solid axle Wrangler. Yes, the ride is terrible. We don’t own the Wrangler anymore.
I’m aware of the quad motor setup on the Rivians, and that’s probably the way to go.
I tend to think a little smaller when it comes to off-roaders – like ATV/UTV/Geo Tracker sized things. And probably lower-spec than what your used to driving. I’ve been trying to dream up the most simple arrangement for a ground-up build. Hub motors appeal to me on that front, in part, because I think using hub motors may allow for a much simpler suspension set-up – for a small, low-speed, utilitarian, off-road vehicle. Somewhere between a lawn mower and a UTV.
That’s kind of where I’m coming from with all this jazz. I just think it might be worth a shot. That’s all.
Jeep needs to start by hiring someone better at photoshop, these are all really bad.
It looks like this still has doors with window frames which means there is no way to can take the doors with you. Also why are the mirrors still on the doors. It was fun to take the doors off and drive to the beach illegally in my JK, but coming back at dusk with the wind blowing was extremely unfun, especially for my young daughter who was cold and wind blown. That is one of the deciding factors that I sold the JK to make room for the Bronco, unfortunately I haven’t been able to buy the Bronco yet…
What’s the water fording depth?
Either it can be something incredible with no engine to worry about, or something pathetic because they’re worried about getting some electric component wet.
My take on this is the same I have with electric motorcycles: Trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
Off-roaders, whitin that group, Wranglers are probably only responsible for a very tiny % of total CO2 emissions in the grand scheme of things.
Now Jeep is giving them an EV that will not match the capability of a current Wrangler in off-roading abilities and range, and it’ll be more expensive too.
It’ll be a compromised off-roader with IFS and short range, and owing to its bulky square shape, weight, height, a compromised, inefficient EV. The worst of both worlds.
Why not electrify mass-market commuters, taxis, delivery vans, other everyday vehicles first that emit orders of magnitude more CO2 than niche vehicles, and leave the enthusiast, specialty vehicles alone?
The problem is that while offroading generates a very small part of overall emissions, tons of people buy off road vehicles (Wranglers, Broncos, etc.), which are generally among the least efficient modern vehicles, and drive them a lot of miles on roads. That’s where the gains from electricification of off road vehicles will be realized.
I feel like we should do the opposite to be honest. We need to electrify second cars, not first ones. Most people’s first car purchase is a fuel efficient, practical ICE powered vehicle. If they get another car to complement their first car they tend to get a fun and or exciting car that doesn’t get driven as much like a Miata, a Wrangler, a Smart Car, etc.
Do you need 300 miles of range for your Jeep Wrangler BEV to get you to the trail, down it, back, and back home?
Do you need 300 miles of range for your Miata for some spirited driving in town and for running light errands?
Do you need 300 miles of range in your Smart Car to drive into the city to run errands, and get back home again? NO!
With lower range requirements we can have cheap and light BEVs that make fun less of a hassle and easier to acquire. This day in age in order to make a BEV go 300+ miles per charge it costs an obscene amount of money, it requires you to sacrifice practicality for aerodynamics, and make these vehicles obscenely heavy. For long distance high speed travel ICE cannot be beat (currently) so why don’t we have very fuel efficient (and relatively boring) ICE vehicles for high speed long distance travel like the Prius, the Corolla Hybrid, the Maverick Hybrid, etc. and then have people’s fun cars be lightweight low range BEVs?
To be honest ICE is already getting too boring, and honestly it shouldn’t be boring but due to regulations that’s really the way of the world nowadays. ICE isn’t going to get more exciting, gas V8s will get killed off very soon in basically all consumer automobiles, The American part of Stellantis is dying with Dodge killing off the Charger and the Challenger, Jeep killing the hope for an electric Jeep, and the V8 Wranglers will probably disappear by the next model year.
If ICE is being forced to be boring then why should BEVs have to be as well?
I agree with some of this, however, I still think ideally, it should be the other way around.
Manufacturers come out with a durable EV tech, that beats ICE in every aspect. Then push for replacement, not before.
An ICE replacement technology should be better than the ICE tech it replaces in all aspects.
Apart from emissions, range should be better or equally as good, it should be able to handle off-roading, towing, extreme temperatures just as good, but preferably better than current ICE cars.
If they aren’t better overall in most metrics, what problem are we solving exactly?
Why make a Wrangler replacement that’s worse in almost everything than the original, except maybe emissions and 0-60 pulls?
All in all, marginally lowering overall lifetime emissions at a high cost: think about all the newly built infrastructure that has to be in place to support BEVs, their manufacturing, and all the extra emissions this will cause.
I agree but it’s not a matter for the automakers, it’s a matter for the lawmakers since they made standards are killing and will kill ICE.
The reason BEVs are not as good as ICE vehicles in basically every practical category is the obsession with range. They make the drivetrains as light as they can manage without breaking CV joints all the time because they need to make the drivetrain as efficient as possible to maximize the range. Same goes for the low ground clearance, low profile tires, and the massive storage and size compromises to improve aerodynamics.
I take it you haven’t read my other comments yet and I’d recommend you do so. I hate the Recon because it’s everything the first mass production BEV Jeep shouldn’t be. They should have mass produced the original BEV Maverick Concept which was basically a ICE V6 6MT 2 door Wrangler with the engine replaced with an electric motor and batteries shoved everywhere they could.
BEVs and most “renewable” energy production create a lot more pollution and use a ton more natural resources than people would like to admit.
I wonder if Jeep’s doing what I mulled over for a time on another chassis project.
Remember that a live axle is mounted to the chassis by springs. But an IRS is generally subframe mounted, and an IRS transaxle a la Porsche has the transmission and suspension in back. The transmission is sprung weight via a cradle/subframe.
This is a design that makes a LOT of sense for an EV motor. The catch obviously is that the Jeep is for off-roading and the 944 is a sports car.
However, an IRS transaxle style setup is the one that makes the most technical and financial sense, since it eliminates parts (and therefore costs.) But as I’m sure Huibert will point out, it’s not the easiest thing with a 4WD off-roader.
But this is FCAtlantis. They have the most advanced off-roading independent suspension designs in the business, by far. And the Rubicon rating isn’t significantly about suspension travel. Know what’s “Trail Rated” and has completed the Rubicon?
Jeep Grand Cherokee. All generations except WL. (WL may have, and I just haven’t seen the PR about it.) And the WK/WK2 generations have an IFS with a ‘float’ mounted front differential.
s/differential/electric motor/ and Bob’s your uncle, then copy-paste out back. And believe me, even in the WK, there’s room.
Integrated motor with transmission mounted in the subframe on the same end as the drive wheels is standard in the EV world. What you’re describing is something that already exists in the Hummer EV, Lightning, Rivian, etc.
Repost of my youtube comment on their video:
So you’re Jeep, making your first mass production BEV and you’re “on a endless quest to build the most capable off road production vehicles in the world”. Your first ever Jeep was a “2 door” body on frame vehicle with solid axles front and rear with selectable 4WD.
So all 3 of your upcoming BEVs are going to be Unibody, 4 door, independent suspension front and rear with minimal ground clearance, no hope of any significant aftermarket support…
You had a BEV concept that would have been easy to mass produce and cost minimal money to put into mass production. The original Jeep Wrangler BEV concept. It was basically an ICE wrangler with the 6 speed manual with all the ICE drivetrain taken out with a motor and batteries put in its place. Besides being a little heavy it was a great concept that captured the best parts of Jeep in a BEV. Instead of mass producing it you spend ~$800K on a one off Jeep Wrangler BEV with a custom stretched frame that has almost no chance of seeing mass production. Now flushing $800K down the drain seems downright reasonable compared to the cost of making 3 new BEV models (and one of them is a European market model only) with the Jeep Logo slapped on them. If you did a BEV swap on Suzuki Samurais and slapped a Jeep badge on them they’d have more Jeep in them than any of these BEVs. I love BEV drivetrains but you guys have brought shame to your company and your customers with your choice in production BEVs.
Honestly now I don’t want to buy any Jeep because all I’d be doing is subsidizing your idiotic decisions. By the time you realize your mistake it’ll already be 2026 and I’ll be out of the new car market. Great Job, you’ve Killed Jeep.
Um, the Changli is an electric vehicle with a solid rear axle. Just put another one under the front end and you’d have a solid axle 4×4 BEV.