Cars That Could Have Been: The Jeep Treo

Photo: Jeep

The year 2003 seems like it was just yesterday, but it’s almost old enough to vote. Back then, Jeep was selling all internal combustion vehicles, but it had plans to build alternative fuel vehicles in the following years. It was a different time.

Image: Jeep

One of those plans was the wild Jeep Treo. The Treo was planned to go into production, with Autocar reporting shorty after the concept debuted that “Chrysler is confident the Treo - or a car based on it - will make production.” It did not. The concept was an electric vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, though the production version was said to be hybrid gas/electric. It had seats for three, with two in the front and a single seat in the back. The wheels stuck out of the corners, more so on the back where the body tapered in, like some sort of reverse off-road Plymouth Prowler.

The car was designed to be drive-by-wire, and the seats had carbon fibre frames. The winglets had mounts for bicycles on each side, and there were places to mount the removed front wheels inside the vehicle. It wasn’t specifically designed to travel off-road, though the ground clearance, tow hooks, and four-wheel-drive certainly would have made it capable. Excellent approach and departure angles, too.

Image: Jeep

It was to be a city car, designed for students and young drivers. It does leave the observer with a lot of questions. Why does it taper at the back? what are those wings for? Is it legal to have those tires exposed like that? Seems like for a city car it’s somewhat likely to gobble up pedestrians with those wheels out there. Chrysler executives presumably also had questions about the car, like: Will anyone buy it? Can we make money on it? All the wrong questions, as the only correct question for a car like this is: Why not?

And while there are probably several good answers to that question, it is still a shame that it, or a version of it, never made it to production. It doesn’t seem to make much sense, but when you look at a car like this, you don’t really care if it makes sense. You kind of want it to exist because it doesn’t make sense.

The Treo designers were challenged to look a decade or more into the future. That’s now. Now is a decade or more away from 2003. And while I can’t say that automotive design has grown into what this car predicted, I am a little disappointed that we haven’t lived up to the weirdness.

Of course, it’s never too late.

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