Jeep Commander
Jeep's entry into the seven-passenger SUV market wears Moab's dust well. The Jeep Commander's angular design, with its sharp lines and flat surfaces, harkens back to the Willys station wagons, Wagoneers, and Cherokees; but this vehicle is hardly mired in the past. In fact, the Commander is what Jeep calls its vanguard of new products, set to cross the rocky North American automotive market over the next few years.

The Commander shares the same line and underpinnings as the '05 Grand Cherokee. As such, it offers some similar features: 5.7L Hemi V-8 with the Multi-Displacement System, 4.7L Power Tech V-8, and 3.7-liter Power Tech V-6 engines; Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II full-time four-wheel-drive systems; Brake Traction Control System (BTCS); and Electronic Limited Slip Differentials (ELSD) transfer cases

Truckin' and three other Primedia publications were invited to risk the lives a few Jeep engineers and PR professionals and the mechanical integrity of two pre-production Commanders on a trek across the colorful Utah desert led by four-wheeler and Moab-based guide Dan Mick. We alternated between disconcerting views of nothing but sky and nothing but ground as we drove up and down one mound of slickrock after another. Luckily, there were no mishaps. We would have had to drive the Commanders on a bad line up a rock (which we did a couple times) or steer them off a cliff (not this time) for a screwup to have occurred. That's because both the vehicles we drove tackled obstacles with relative ease, particularly the Limited model wielding Quadra-Drive II, ELSD, and a 5.7L Hemi. Simply butting that vehicle's front tires against a steep wall of rock, tapping its variable-response fly-by-wire accelerator, and pointing the nose in the right direction allowed us to climb a 50 or 60-degree grade without breaking traction, the conversation, or a sweat. The other Commander had a 4.7L engine, Quadra-Trac II, BTCS, and cable-controlled throttle body, and it tackled obstacles with just as much skill but with noticeably less finesse as the other model

Like the Grand Cherokee, the Commander also has independent front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering for better road manners, although we can't accurately comment about the on-road handling since the earlier-generation vehicles we drove were supposedly not quite ready for prime time in this area

Unlike the Grand, the Commander's steering is geared to be a tad slower to make it more manageable over rough terrain, and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is tweaked to be less intrusive. It is 2 inches longer, 4 inches taller, and 250 pounds heavier than the Grand Cherokee. The Commander with the 4.7L powerplant tows 6,500 pounds, while the Hemi version pulls 7,200. The roof rack carries 150 pounds. Stadium-style seating gives second- and third-row passengers a commanding view of the road, rather than of the back of the driver's head. The middle row is split into three seats, 40-20-40, each of which folds down flat. Headroom in this row is adequate for a 6-foot-2-inch writer, and two sealed and shaded skylights in the roof over this row complement the fully functional sunroof over the driver and front passenger. The rear row's two seats split 50-50 and also fold flat, and AC vents and controls give these passengers some control over their comfort. We couldn't judge the interior fit, finish, or overall cosmetics due to the pre-production nature of these vehicles. Chromed exterior handles on the outside of the Limited's D-pillars give a hand to someone loading people or cargo through the back hatch.

Safety and stability features on the Commander include its Electronic Stability Program, which compensates for oversteer, understeer, and slippery roads; ABS brakes; tire pressure monitoring; airbags that deploy to counter certain roll-over accidents; and more. We'll give you a more in-depth review of the Commander in the future.

Ford Cutting Salaried Jobs
Ford expects to cut 5 percent off its North American salaried job positions by October 1, 2005 and 10 percent of its use of agency and purchased services as of July 1 (which, at press time, is a week away). Salaried managers worldwide will also have to forego their bonuses this year, and (as of July 1) will have to do without the company's 401(k) matching grant. Workers overseas may also be faced with unspecified cost-cutting measures

This news comes within the context of lower-than-expected vehicle sales and supplier challenges in North America; higher first-quarter earnings guidance due to lower taxes and strong results from Ford's financial arm, Ford Motor Credit; and reduced earnings guidance of $1 to $1.25 for the entire year, down from $1.25 to $1.50.

Also, Ford announced an S-1 filing for Hertz, a step toward an initial public offering of a portion of the rental car company. Should an IPO actually happen, then Ford says it would divest itself of all its holdings in Hertz. But while Ford is inclined to spin-off Hertz, it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Visteon that would essentially lead to Ford's partial reabsorption of its giant supplier in the hopes that it will reinvigorate Visteon

GM Sales Explode, Ford and Chrysler Bursting to FollowSet ablaze by General Motors' employee discount for everyone program, consumers flew to GM dealers to snatch up more than half a million new cars and trucks between June 1 to July 5. The frenzy amounted to a 47 percent boost in sales for the automaker. Burning to replicate GM's success, Ford and Chrysler have implemented similar programs. Not eager to cool its jets, GM extended its program to August 1, at the time of this writing. The discounts do not apply to all vehicles and amount to a few percentage points off from invoice

We slipped in the Audio Overload story on page 208 of Issue No. 9. We wrote that Bobby Hillgaertner was the owner of Audio Nutz in Ocklawaha, Florida. Bobby does not own the shop. His cousin Steven Head is sole owner of the audio/video superstore.

Decaf CAF
SEMA teamed with automakers to convince sympathetic U.S. senators to quash an amendment to an energy bill that would have sought a 40-percent reduction to oil imports by 2025. According to SEMA, its opposition stems from the suspicion that this amendment was a backdoor attempt to significantly raise the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards for cars and light trucks over the next 20 years. SEMA points to provisions in the legislation that it says already require the U.S. government to find ways to cut the nation's oil demand by 1 million barrels per day by 2015. SEMA and the automakers would prefer that the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Association) and not Congress set CAFE standards, citing the NHTSA's expertise in taking into account the impact on jobs, safety, consumer choice, technology, and other factors.

CAFE standards were put into place after the oil shocks of 1973 and 1974, establishing a minimum average mileage per gallon for almost every vehicle class. As of 2004, the CAFE for two-wheel-drive compact pickups is 20 mpg, in 1984 (the first year standards were established for light trucks) it was 27.2. Four-wheel-drive small pickups no longer have a standard. CAFE standards for two-wheel-drive large pickups were 19.1 in 1984 but as of 2004 were 20.6. Four-wheel-drive large pickups had a CAFE of 18.5 in 1984 and 18.8 in 2004.

The federal government has been under pressure from various interests to increase CAFE standards as pickups and SUVs have transformed from farm haulers to daily drivers and have hit the road in vast numbers. Now, light trucks (a term that includes passenger and cargo vans, pickups, SUVs, and other vehicles) comprise 52.7 percent of the nation's light-duty fleet, up from 9.8 percent in 1979. Compare the CAFE standards of 19.1 for a large pickup to the current 29.1 for a new passenger car. Advocates for increased fuel economy would like to close that gap in light of the increase of comparatively less efficient pickups on the road. Meanwhile, SEMA, automakers, and other groups would rather mitigate the implementation of regulations that can be very costly to meet.

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