More stories related to New York Auto ShowNEW YORK – Chrysler Group will build the Dodge Nitro SUV and follow it up a year later with “a major rework” of its platform-mate, the Jeep Liberty.

The auto maker first showed the Nitro at the Chicago auto show last month, hinting the concept was headed for production.(See related story: Public Will Help Determine Dodge Nitro Fate)

Jeep Design Director John Sgalia tells Ward’s the Nitro is a go during a concept vehicle event here in advance of the New York International Auto Show.

Jeep is showing the 7-seat Commander SUV at the auto show here. It is a bigger model from the Grand Cherokee’s architecture that will serve as the capstone of the range aimed at people who want “functionality and sophistication.” (See related story: Jeep Thinks Big With Commander SUV)

Dodge’s new Nitro SUV could bow in 2006 as an ’07 model, opening the door for an ’08 redo of the Liberty.

Sgalia promises “more refinement” in the next-generation Liberty, but provides few specifics. He says development of the Nitro and the next Liberty are being overseen by the same director, ensuring ample differentiation between the production vehicles.

The Liberty introduction likely will be linked with the launch of the next-generation Wrangler, of which the first prototypes just now are beginning testing, Sgalia says. Although he promises a Wrangler redesign will preserve the vehicle’s off-road “fundamentalist” roots, the vehicle probably will carry over at least some mechanicals from other Jeep products.

Dodge Nitro on its way.

The most-recent Wrangler redesign debuted in 1996 as a ’97, and the next generation could appear in ’07 off the new TK platform.

Beyond those plans, Sgalia gives no glimpse of what else is coming for Jeep except to say, “There’s probably room for Jeep to reach, spread its wings so to speak.”

He says DaimlerChrysler AG has tested potential avenues with such concepts as a Hummer H2-fighting SUV called the Rescue at the 2004 North American International Auto Show and the equally audacious Gladiator pickup, which played second fiddle at this year’s 2005 Detroit show to the power-laden Hurricane concept, also by Jeep.(See related story: Jeep Surprises With Hurricane Concept)

While the 670-hp Hurricane, packing a pair of 5.7L Hemi V-8s, has no hope for production it boasts at least a few technologies with potential life in future Jeep products, Doug Quigley, senior manager-concept vehicle engineering, tells Ward’s.

Topping the list – front and rear fenders that fold themselves skyward via dampened spring-loaded hinges. The movement, created for the Hurricane, protects the fenders from the wheels during off-roading, and replaces the cheap-looking “flexible fenders” currently used in production vehicles, Quigley says.

Fender placement was determined by concept designers, but product development found they were vulnerable to damage under harsh conditions when the tire would exceed the 9 ins. (22.9 cm) worth of wheel travel engineered into the vehicle. Had the fenders been moved up to protect them from any interaction with the tire, they would have made the Hurricane look awkward, Sgalia says.

“Ultimately, the clearance would have been (forced) way up, and it would have looked like a radio-controlled car,” he says, referring to what would have happened if the fenders had simply been moved up to accommodate the oversized wheels.

But the designers won, and in the process, a potential new fender technology was born.

Another Hurricane technology, which could find life in military applications, is variable steering configurations made possible by a rack positioned on the rear axle. It gives the vehicle the ability to turn on a zero radius, as if it were on a turntable.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com