efe-epaDetroit

For the past 18 years, Jeep has been participating in the Easter Jeep Safari, an event created by enthusiasts of all-terrain vehicles and which for the Fiat Chrysler (FCA) brand has become a real open-air laboratory.

Since the first EJS in 1967, hundreds of "off-road" aficionados and their vehicles have gathered during Holy Week in the Utah city of Moab to drive through the desert and put their all-terrain vehicles to the test under the most difficult conditions.

The event is organized by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers club and since 2001 Jeep has been officially participating with prototypes of vehicles, most of which are current models modified with components that still have not yet come onto the market.

This year, Jeep presented seven prototypes at the event, four of them created by the firm - the 4Speed, Sandstorm, B-Ute and Wagoneer Roadtrip - and three others by Mopar, an FCA component and accessories manufacturer: Nacho, Jeepster and J-Wagon.

But as Jeep design director Mark Allen explained to EFE, the prototypes that the FCA off-road brand is bringing to Moab are not just for show, but rather are "fully functional."

"What is unique about our EJS is that we construct vehicles and take them to Moab not only for display but to experience the vehicles in the intended environment. They are fully functional," he said.

Allen - who made the decision in 2001 for Jeep to participate in the EJS - is bringing not only vehicles to Moab but also engineers.

"We take people out that work in the building and never have experienced Jeep at all. I take them to Moab, to expose them to the enthusiast side of Jeep. I will take vehicles out and train them how to drive off-road, carefully and properly the way I want them to drive anyway," Allen explained.

The Jeep engineers acknowledge that the experience is unique because fans of the popular brand "are not shy" about expressing their opinions about the firm's vehicles.

"I have had several good conversations with owners there, at the Easter Jeep Safari," Allen said, laughing.

"In Moab we connect directly with our customers. It is huge for us. It is like doing product research without people knowing they are been researched. We put our hands in our pockets, shut up, and listen," he added.

From these "sessions" with enthusiasts and the experience of bringing the vehicles to Moab have emerged many of the ideas that now can be seen in the new Wrangler, which Jeep has just launched.

In like manner, the prototypes that Jeep has brought this year to the EJS contain details of the next steps the brand intends to take, for instance in the Sandstorm.

"With Sandstorm we want to start the conversation on the high speed. Over the years we have been known very well for low speed off-road. But we want to broaden our portfolio and move to other areas of off-road," Allen said.

With the 4Speed, Jeep wants to emphasize the natural capabilities of the Wrangler with its 2-liter turbo engine.

"We have reduced the weight removing the roof, the doors, the HVAC, the carpet, bumpers ... And replacing some metal pieces with carbon fiber," he added.

"Moab is the highlight of our year," Allen concluded.