Ode to JK: Final Jeep Wrangler JK Rolls off the Assembly Line

Ode to JK: Final Jeep Wrangler JK Rolls off the Assembly Line

Story by Stefanie Galeano-Zalutko, photos courtesy of FCA Canada


What has graced more covers than Pamela Anderson and done more wardrobe swaps than Lady Gaga?


Since its launch in 2007, the Jeep® Wrangler JK/JKU has become a global symbol of customization and capability. And in the process, it has proven that, yes, both brains and beauty are possible.

This new class of Jeep®, with its fancy four doors, convenient power windows, and tech-savvy navigation, clearly was designed with daily drivers in mind. Its refined, family-friendly appeal steered Wranglers off trails and right into suburban driveways across North America. A platform already known for its rugged cool factor was ushered to eternal stardom by broadening its customer base, thereby setting unprecedented market segment growth in motion. JK sales boomed to over 119,000 vehicles, a staggering 40,000 more than the TJ’s 2006 sendoff run, and it wasn’t long before that number soared past 200,000+ units per year. With little manufacturer incentive to purchase, may we add.

The badge with such universal demand also is responsible for changing the off-road landscape at large. Those with no 4×4 aspirations whatsoever were enamored with the culture that surrounded Jeep life, even if the vehicle and its aftermarket parts would never see a speck of dirt. “The adored JK is responsible for a record explosion in the popularity of aftermarket parts and modifications. Never in history has a vehicle been so customizable, with an ever-growing roster of reputable companies ready and willing to tailor every aspect of an owner’s rig to personal specifications, regardless of whether that Jeep® will be hitting the trail or cruising down a perfectly paved city street. Seemingly overnight, the JK changed the game forever,” as stated in the feature Bittersweet to Bid Farewell, published in Keystone Automotive’s Retail Partner Monthly.

Today’s consumers, their expectations, and what they drive may be in stark contrast to the traditional 4×4 crowd running manual TJs, old Samurais, and purpose-built Land Rovers, but challenge a JK to crawl a mountainside or conquer Pritchett Canyon at Moab and see even the purist of off-roaders elicit a nod of approval for the family-friendly four door. The JK proved that off-road credibility could exist in the comfort of a daily driver. And that shift from a niche audience to mass-produced appeal effectively turned the market on its head.

“I didn’t take the model and what people were doing to it as seriously in the beginning of its life cycle,” said Scott Poncher, a respected industry professional who is the founder and CEO of aftermarket newcomer Up Down Air Systems. “Around 2010-2011, I could see this was going to be the most accessorized vehicle on the planet. When you talk about the success of the JK platform, the average person maybe spent $2,500 on truck accessorizing during the first year. I don’t know the hard numbers on the JK, but I bet the average JK owner probably spent four times that. The amount of money and options to customize a JK have just been absolutely incredible,” he continued.

And Poncher is hardly the only one to recognize that potential. Magnaflow exhaust systems, Rampage TrailView soft tops, Fab Fours Grumpers and ViCowls, Teraflex lift kits, Rigid Industries LED lighting, Smittybilt side armour, Kargomaster Safari roof racks, Bilstein shocks, Mickey Thompson mud-terrain tires, Fuel wheels, Rugged Ridge’s full line of accessories… and the list continues. “There is hardly a nut or bolt on these rigs that can’t be altered to the owner’s specifications. And whether for style or function, these products are being devoured by Jeep enthusiasts, comprising the most massive aftermarket marketplace in the history of the automotive industry,” as stated in Bittersweet to Bid Farewell.


It’s a Far Cry from Goodbye

 Just as the Jeep® JK vastly improved upon the outgoing TJ, so too the JL will reveal innovative progress. And while the new model is positioned to knock the socks off the North American markets, it would be foolish to talk of the JK in past tense. We may be bidding farewell to production, but profit potential is a far cry from dried up. Indeed, second and third vehicle ownership are set to provide another generation of sales revenue.

With some miles under the tread, vehicle owners are more likely to get these JKs on the trails. Retailers, restylers, and installers should be doubling down their efforts with staple brands like Rugged Ridge and Skyjacker to secure sales with new customers modifying these vehicles. “There are an estimated 1.6-1.8 million JKs on the road—that’s a lot of units,” said Poncher. “Yeah, there are more F150s out there, but most owners aren’t going to put the kind of money into an F150 like someone who is going for a used JK. Also, it’s a good investment because the vehicle holds a great resale value.”

With the cost of the JL, we won’t see it gain big traction with consumers for another 3-7 years. Like the JK, it will take a couple of years for manufacturers to create aftermarket parts to improve the platform further. And figure another 3-5 years of hefty payments before most consumers even start considering trail runs with the JL. “I expect the JK to still be a force to be reckoned with, since we’ll see them traded in or made into more trail-dedicated vehicles. The ’07-’11 JKs with the 3.8L engine are getting cheap. Guys aren’t afraid to gut them and put in a new powertrain to get the desired performance,” Corby Phillips of WARN told The Engine Block.

Dan Guyer, longtime industry professional and Jeep enthusiast, agreed that “the sweet spot is about seven years.” He pointed out that a lot of these JKs are facing maintenance issues and replacements from wear and tear, encouraging many owners to sell, upgrade to something new like a JL, and restart the build process. “Even the show n’ shines will need maintenance and repair,” he said. “Expect a spike in oxygen sensors, brake pads, and rotors. There will be a need for Moog, Crown, and Omix-Ada products. And JKs that are too pokey to get out of their own way—I keep saying it—ring and pinion.”

Ultimately, maintenance and repair mean a quicker timeline to fun in the outdoors. “It’s really a great platform and the price will come down with second and third vehicle ownership, and when the price comes down, wheelers won’t feel as bad throwing on some 37s or 40s and beating her up in the woods,” he continued.


Aftermarket Companies Foresee New Opportunities with JK

You will never strip the desire to enhance, modify, and personalize. Poncher says he expects many of the same product categories to do well with consumers, like suspension, wheels and tires, exterior protection, cargo solutions, and lighting. In fact, with many manufacturers focused on the JL, parts for the JK could become less expensive and attract more people.

One such group placing its bet on continued success of the JK platform is newcomer Up Down Air Systems, a revolutionary on-board air delivery system that allows users to inflate or deflate all four tires simultaneously. “We found the part most often ignored is the tuning of the tires when taking it off road. Think about it, many tune shocks and suspension but don’t spend an ounce of time tuning tires. And that’s the great thing about our product. It allows you to tune the tires to perform at their max, whether in sand, crawling over rocks, or whatever the terrain. We give you the ability to have all four tires set to the pressure you need for that environment and do so quickly and easily. That’s a leg up for the entire off-road community,” explained Poncher.

Currently, kits are available for the ’07-’18 Jeep® Wrangler JK and second-generation Raptor. To Poncher, the JK is his core customer now and well into the future, but there is no limit on the product’s potential, as he sees great opportunity with mid- and full-size trucks, SUVs, and UTVs. “Addressing each tire individually is time consuming and inefficient—it will become a thing of the past. Dialing in and airing up with one central device to ensure exact tire pressure is going to be the new norm soon,” said Poncher. “We are going to innovate the market, continue to evolve, and offer proper tire pressure solutions for off-roaders—no matter where they go, on- or off-road.”

Up Down Air Systems and the new JL plan to send a shockwave through the market, much like the JK did when it made its debut. But let’s remember that the JK’s legacy is far from over, as the model enters round two with a little more maturity and a whole lot more dirt on the tires.

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