The 2015 Jeep Renegade, which debuted this week at the 2014 Geneva auto show, garnered attention as the first civilian “baby Jeep” to enter series production. However, Jeep pitched a similar idea a little over 20 years ago with the 1993 Jeep Ecco concept at the Detroit auto show.
What Was It?
Along with testing the waters for a small Jeep, the Ecco also allowed Chrysler to play with some advanced manufacturing tricks. Jeep billed the Ecco as “a 4×4 for the environmentally-aware generation.” To that end, Chrysler built the Ecco’s body structure from aluminum and wrapped it in plastic body panels. As a result, Jeep alleged the vehicle was 100-percent recyclable. It was also incredibly small: at 143 inches long, it was nearly two feet shorter than the new 2015 Jeep Renegade.
Unlike Jeep’s prior attempts at crafting a super-small SUV, the Ecco concept bore no resemblance to any existing Jeep model. The brand’s trademark seven-slot grille was retained, but the rounded, cab-forward form and ovoid headlamps bore a close resemblance to the Dodge Neon concept shown two years prior (and ultimately the production 1995 Neon).
Like the Neon concept, the Jeep Ecco was powered by an engine borrowed from Chrysler’s experimental two-stroke engine program. The Ecco’s all-aluminum 1.5-liter three-cylinder boasted both direct fuel injection and a supercharger, although the latter merely scavenged exhaust gases from the combustion chamber instead of boosting power.
Given the Ecco’s ecological theme, the choice of a two-stroke engine – a design prone to high nitrous oxide emissions and long associated with smoky exhausts – seemed unusual, but it did provide a decent power-to-weight ratio. The engine produced 85 hp and 120 lb-ft of torque, yet weighed 80 lbs less than Chrysler’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder of the era.
What Did They Say?:
“The allure of a Jeep has always been its ability to take the road less traveled…a road inaccessible to ordinary vehicles. With that freedom comes the responsibility to preserve our natural environment for future generations. Jeep Ecco is up to that task!”
-Jeep Ecco promotional brochure
Don’t forget the obligatory corporate rap video…
What Did We Say?
“At virtually the opposite end of the spectrum [of the Dodge Ram pickup], spiritually and conceptually, was the tiny, environmentally correct Jeep Ecco, a design study for a twenty-first-century Jeep, according to one of Chrysler’s design directors, Trevor Creed. The Ecco makes use of the vertical-slot Jeep grille, one of the best known and best-loved car “faces” in the world. The Ecco features recyclable materials and a lean-burn 1.5-liter, 85-bhp three-cylinder two-stroke engine. The wheelbase is 100.3 inches with a miniscule overall length of 143.0 inches – more than a foot shorter than a Honda Civic del Sol.”
-Automobile, April 1993
Not much. Although the Ecco made the rounds of the international auto show circuit, it didn’t translate into a production model. Jeep continued to show an array of conceptual subcompact SUV and crossovers over the next 13 years, but didn’t push any into production until the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot debuted in 2006.
As for that little two-stroke engine? Although it was rumored to eventually wind up in the Dodge and Plymouth Neon, it never did. Chrysler shelved its two-stroke engine program in 1996, citing a lack of a cost-effective means of controlling its NOx emissions.
At the time, Chrysler spun the engine’s demise in a positive light, suggesting the experience in direct fuel injection systems could be applied to future four-stroke engines. Chrysler implied to Ward’s that the experience could shave roughly 18 months in development time. Ironically, Chrysler has yet to bring a direct-injection gasoline engine to market.
Where Is It Now?
Many concept cars are destroyed after they’ve done their time on the auto show circuit. The Jeep Ecco is an exception to that rule: it continues to live within Chrysler’s historical vehicle collection.