AUBURN HILLS, MI – Jeep fans who have been clamoring for a pickup since Chrysler’s SUV brand unveiled the Gladiator concept vehicle in 2005 are getting their wish.

They’ll just have to build the truck themselves.

Chrysler announces its MOPAR accessories unit will sell a kit that will transform a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited into a 2-seat pickup.

The kit will go on sale in mid- to late summer, says Jim Sassorossi, head of MOPAR sales and marketing. But he is mum on pricing.

The kit can be installed by dealers, upfitters or do-it-yourselfers. The latter, if skilled, can accomplish the task over a weekend, Sassorossi says here during a media preview of vehicles Chrysler intends to show at the Jeep Easter Safari in Moab.

The annual Utah wilderness event, which attracts thousands of off-roading enthusiasts, has become a key information-exchange tool for Jeep, says Mike Manley, Jeep president and CEO.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to let our designers and engineers try and experiment,” he says. “We get direct feedback from all those customers, on the spot. They give us input, they give us advice and then we bring that back here and we really do use that for future development.”

Jeep marketing chief Jim Morrison says product developers are informed by modifications ranging from extreme 4-wheel-drive upgrades to interior appointments.

A caddy added to the ’11 Wrangler’s dashboard was inspired by an improvised strap-on storage unit seen at Moab. “We learn from them; they learn from us,” Morrison tells Ward’s.

Other vehicles planned for unveiling at Moab:

  • Jeep Compass Canyon, equipped with a lift kit, Mickey Thompson tires and rock rails.
  • Jeep Cherokee Overland, marketed in the U.S. as the Jeep Liberty, features a 2.8L 4-cyl. turbodiesel engine, refrigerator and an on-board air compressor.
  • Jeep Wrangler Renegade, equipped with Chrysler’s all-new 475-hp 6.4.L Hemi V-8.
  • Jeep Wrangler Blue Crush, designed for high-speed off-roading in addition to rock-crawling, features an all-aluminum 540-hp Hemi V-8 and benefits from a 545RFE high-performance transmission.
  • Jeep Wrangler ‘Pork Chop,’ so named in a nod to its lightweight construction, which has no doors or tailgate and tips the scales 850 lbs. (386 kg) lighter than a stock Wrangler.
  • Mopar Ram Runner, a desert racer based on a Ram fullsize, it boasts 14-in. (35.6 cm) wheel travel in a bid to challenge Ford’s F-150 Raptor.

All the concepts, and Ram Runner in particular, are designed to showcase MOPAR. Off-road equipment accounts for 30% of the brand’s parts portfolio and 30% of its sales, says MOPAR President Pietro Gorlier, who will be traveling to Moab for the annual event.

Ironically, Manley will be absent. He will be in New York for the auto show where he will make a Jeep product announcement.

Chrysler officials are mum, but Ward’s is told the auto maker might unveil a new high-performance SRT-badged version of the all-new Grand Cherokee.

As for a production-model Jeep pickup, interest is high inside and outside the company. When Ward’s reported the Gladiator’s demise in 2006, email inboxes overflowed with protests.

“It’s a white space that we would desperately like to fill, but honestly, there are hotter fires at the moment,” says Mark Allen, head of Jeep design. “We’ve got so many other projects to do.”

Chrysler has confirmed three all-new Jeeps for 2013: a Liberty, a single replacement for the Compass and platform-mate Patriot and a B-segment model for overseas markets. All will be derived from Fiat platforms.

A Jeep pickup is “something we would get to, say, if Wrangler sales weren’t good,” Allen tells Ward’s. “But they are good.”

Through March, Wrangler sales were tracking 18.8% ahead of like-2010, according to Ward’s data. Total Jeep deliveries were up 33.7%.

emayne@wardsauto.com