In the aftermath of this year's North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, the massive Jeep Rescue was the center of attention. The idea of a big Jeep, larger than the existing Grand Cherokee, has been kicked around the halls at Auburn Hills for quite some time, even before the 1999 merger. In fact, the Chrysler Group was reportedly close to green-lighting the project as far back as 2000, but as Chrysler's financial difficulties escalated, the project was first put on hold, then ultimately cancelled.

Fast forward to late 2002, when the planning process was in motion for the following year's concept vehicles, just as the 2003 concepts were being finished for unveiling at the 2003 NAIAS. The idea again surfaced to build the ultimate Jeep--a big Jeep that could go anywhere, do anything, and serve as a lightning rod for future design direction.

Trevor Creed, senior vice president Chrysler Group Design, says, "One of the rationales behind the concepts each year is to not provide too many specific borders beyond those provided by the brand itself...but [a concept] still needs to fulfill the [Jeep] promise."

The Jeep Rescue is a full-size SUV with comfortable seating for seven in its three rows of seats. With removable doors like the Wrangler, the designers at the Jeep Design Studio felt they were developing the ultimate Jeep, not building a vehicle in response to competition in the marketplace. One pointed out that the Rescue was actually the popular Dakar concept, fully realized in a competitive full-size package, not much larger than current category benchmarks like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition.

Structurally, the biggest departure for the Rescue is its body-on-frame architecture. This is certainly a throwback to Jeep's earlier vehicles, such as the Wagoneer, last produced in 1991 (see sidebar). Its hydroformed frame is derived from the current Dodge Ram pickup; however, the suspension components bear little resemblance to those found under a heavy-duty Ram.