Jeep has plans to turn the desert green by introducing not only an electric Wrangler off-roader to the market next year, but also developing advanced, solar-powered charging stations that it hopes to dot among the sand dunes.
The company's global president Christian Meunier says plans to install solar-powered charging stations across the UAE's deserts were on the agenda during his frequent visits to the region. These would double as tyre inflation and deflation bays and maybe even act a self-powered lunch stop.
"My dream is to have a station where you can deflate and inflate your tyres in the middle of the desert as well as recharge your car," Meunier says. "I'm pushing the local team to look into charging stations that are powered from the Sun, so you could head off for 30 kilometres or so, stop, charge and drive back."
Although several crossover vehicles such as Mitsubishi's Outlander Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) are sold in Europe and luxury cars such as the Bentley Bentayga are available as hybrids, Jeep's introduction of the Wrangler 4xE PHEV next year will be the first hard-core 4x4 to offer an electric drivetrain in the UAE.
“For me, the coolest thing in the world is that you can drive in silence across the dunes, because without cars, there is no noise in the desert. I think camping out and starting off early morning in the dunes in complete silence with an electric car would be awesome,” Meunier says.
As a PHEV, the Wrangler 4xE keeps its petrol engine but is supplemented by an electric motor that powers the car for up to 50km in full EV mode on road with zero emissions and in total silence. On the dunes, the range is expected to drop to about 30km, but it has the petrol engine on standby.
“I’ve driven the 4xE prototype and the way it’s designed is that once the battery is depleted, there is always an electric pulse. No matter the situation you are in, you always have some amount of electricity in storage,” says Jeep’s head of design Ralph Gilles.
“Then there is the torque, and the customer will notice an incredible surge of power, right off the floor. It’s going to be a very fun car to drive.”
The UAE is surging towards an electrified future on its roads, with a mandate to make 30 per cent of all new car sales either hybrids, PHEVs or full electric (PEV) by 2030. In parallel, Jeep is embarking on an aggressive electrification strategy that will power its entire fleet by either PHEV or PEV power trains by 2022.
Although full EV vehicles are usable in built-up urban areas, the remoteness of the desert requires a PHEV, and the Wrangler 4xE should also have 450km of range in regular combustion-engine mode.
"If you decide to recharge in the middle of the desert during the day, it's possible to do 60-70km using just electric power for the round trip. The main innovation of this vehicle is that you can choose when and where you use the electric power. You push a button and you're 100 per cent electric, push it again and you have your petrol engine back," Meunier says.
The system comprises different modes that cover the possibility of not being able to charge at home if the car lives in an apartment complex with no power outlets. In this case, the 4xE would run on petrol initially to charge the electric motor and can then be flicked over to EV mode to drive on its batteries alone.
Initially, the Wrangler 4xE will launch in the big EV regions of China, Europe and the US, but Meunier counts the Middle East as a significant EV market. "There is an appetite for markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia in electrification and while it will be slower [to adapt], I think that will only be in the beginning.
"When people discover the capabilities of the Wrangler 4xE, which will have enough power to also run camping accessories such as lighting, music, fridges and hot water for camp showers, and then when we look into installing solar charging stations, where you can have your barbecue next to it as it recharges your car for when you want to stay 100 per cent EV, it is an exciting prospect."