The cars of the 2018 LA Auto Show handily outnumber the trucks, but the trucks and SUVs are absolutely the bigger story. This year's show hosted the debut of one of the most highly anticipated vehicles of modern times, the Jeep Gladiator, as well as a pretty compelling take on the all-electric on/off-road adventure truck. There's also a newly detailed all-electric VW Microbus concept, a Ford F-550 dressed up in its fanciest US$1.8 million clothes, a number of brand-new and revived SUV models, and even a few camper vans and trailers. All in all, a great show for truck and utility vehicle fans, particularly the most outdoorsy among them.
Bedding the Jeep Wrangler
It was 2010, and I was covering my first auto event ever as a journalist, the 44th Annual Easter Jeep Safari. A clear standout among that year's concept Jeeps was the NuKizer 715, a Wrangler gone full retro with a military grade body kit and a pickup bed. Staring at the NuKizer, I realized how great an idea a Wrangler pickup was and I decided the world really needed one.
Me and every other hardcore and casual Jeep fan in the world – not my most original idea. Scores of others had come to the same conclusion half a decade earlier when Jeep revealed the Gladiator Concept. And still others had been hoping for it since 1992, when Jeep pulled the plug on the Cherokee-based Comanche, or the 80s, when the CJ-8 Scrambler and J-series pickup/Gladiator took their final bows.
For its part, Jeep played coy for years and years, teasing the world by releasing subsequent Jeep Safari pickup concepts like the 2012 Mighty FC and 2015 Red Rock Responder. Years later, in 2018, it's finally relented and given folks the production pickup they've been clamoring for. And the Jeep Gladiator certainly looks like a convincing mash-up of Wrangler and pickup truck, a stretched, go-anywhere 4x4 with a 5-ft (1.5-m) steel bed and all the off-road readiness the Wrangler is all about – Dana axles, low-range gear ratios, Tru-Lok differentials and a tsunami of forthcoming accessories.
You can find all the other details in our full article, but we'll leave you with one particularly warming thought that came to us as we looked over the new Gladiator – rumbling over some of the world's nastiest trail, carrying a pair of dirt bikes in back so you can continue the journey when the trail narrows a little too much for four wheels. What's not to love?
Another of the most anticipated automotive revivals of contemporary times, the electric Volkswagen Bulli redux is working toward its 2022 launch. It seems Volkswagen will follow the formula of its fossil fuel-powered vans in offering both passenger and cargo configurations. It showed the I.D. Buzz Cargo at the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show back in September and refashioned the concept for its auto show debut in LA.
The I.D. Buzz Cargo is now a conceptual support vehicle for the Pikes Peak-conquering I.D. R race car. The show van wears livery similar to the R, along with a map of the Pikes Peak course on its rear door. Inside, Volkswagen's concept includes Sortimo storage shelving with a sensor-based management system for tracking stored contents. There's also a workbench and I.D. R parts.
With potential lithium-ion battery pack sizes between 48- and 111-kWh, the I.D. Buzz Cargo could travel an estimated 200 to 340 miles (322 to 547 km) per charge, according to VW. Power comes from a rear-mounted 201-hp (150-kW) electric motor, but creating an all-wheel drive would be as simple as dropping a second motor up front. The concept also includes I.D. Pilot autonomous mode and a retractable steering wheel.
Volkswagen suggests that an I.D. electric cargo van could hit the market during the same 2022 timeframe as the passenger van.
Creating something ... different
There are plenty of major SUV debuts to choose from, but the SUV we just can't stop thinking about, as much as we really want to, is this not-so-important black beast from Karlmann King. Earlier this year, New Atlas' Loz Blain described this unexpected creation as a "brutal, angular Bat-SUV-looking thing of awkward and ungainly proportions."
We'd like to say the Karlmann King gets better up close, but we simply cannot. The thing is absolutely massive, and not in the tough, utilitarian way of heavy machinery or military vehicles, but more in a "why would anyone in the real world try to wrestle that bulky monster around a street or highway?" kind of way. The odd faceted bodywork looks vaguely tactical but is purely cosmetic, designed to set this Ford F-550 coach build apart from every other truck or SUV out there. And if you're going to pay $1.85 million for an SUV that tops out at 87 mph (140 km/h), it better not look like any other vehicle in the Starbucks parking lot.
Inside, Karlmann's truck-limo has a partitioned passenger compartment loaded with a retractable 40-in TV/divider wall, PlayStation, reclining massage seats, minibar, fridge and various other overindulgences.
Karlmann King is in the process of adding a Californian manufacturing partner alongside its Torino partner so it can better serve customers on both sides of the Atlantic. It now says it plans to build only nine models worldwide (perhaps because it can't find a willing dozen). Each one will reflect its individual buyer's every superficial whim, and because of that customized nature, the $1.85 million is merely an estimated average of what a Karlmann King will cost you at checkout, not a hard MSRP. A steal at twice the price, we say.
If an odd $1.9 million faux-armored SUV leaves a bad taste in your mouth (or even if it doesn't), leap to the gallery to cleanse your palate with all the other trucks and SUVs we checked out during our time in LA.
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