AUBURN HILLS, MI – Jeep dealers can expect to take delivery this week of more MOPAR kits for converting Jeep Wranglers into short-bed pickup trucks.

“Santa Claus is coming early,” jokes MOPAR President Pietro Gorlier.

Demand quickly exceeded projections, which required MOPAR to schedule additional production. Chrysler’s aftermarket-parts brand anticipated between 200 and 300 sales of its JK-8 Independence conversion kit, but dealers ordered 400.

Deliveries should be complete by mid-January, WardsAutois told.

Gorlier says kit sales are a significant market indicator, but the prospect of a production-model Jeep pickup remains up in the air.

Public response “is exciting for an aftermarket product,” he says. “But you have to look at the whole picture. You need to balance the excitement of those who are blogging with real (sales) numbers.”

However, Gorlier assures Jeep fans the auto maker has a pickup on its radar.

Jeep President Mike Manley “has been pretty clear,” Gorlier says. “When we go to the next generation of the Wrangler, (a pickup) will probably be considered.”

The midsize SUV, Jeep’s best-selling model with 111,045 deliveries through November, was refreshed this year. It was last redesigned in 2006.

Who is buying the kits? “Serious Wrangler aficionados,” says Bob Shuman, dealer principal of Shuman Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Walled Lake, MI.

For MOPAR, meeting demand is like walking a tightrope. “We are actually building more kits,” Gorlier says. “But the kit is too big and too complex to have too many on the shelf.”

Meanwhile, Chrysler’s U.S. dealers rapidly are buying into his vision of opening their service bays for business on Saturdays.

“They get it,” says Gorlier, who also has responsibility for the auto maker’s retail operations. “I think Saturday is now part of the DNA of the network.”

Some 77% of Chrysler’s 2,335 dealers now offer Saturday service, just short of Gorlier’s 2014 target of 80%. In the nation’s largest markets, Saturday service already is at 80%.

Stores that have made the commitment have experienced “gigantic” bottom-line gains, Gorlier says, confirming Chrysler targeted reluctant dealers who claimed customers were not looking for Saturday service.

The auto maker dispatched photographers to neighborhoods where the holdouts were located. The photographers shot pictures of Chrysler vehicles being serviced by independent outlets on Saturdays and then showed the images to dealers.

Gorlier says Sunday service also is on his agenda.

emayne@wardsauto.com