AUBURN HILLS, MI – With flashy aftermarket parts catching on with a growing segment of its buyer base, Chrysler is trying to find ways to fashion more of that flash into its vehicles right at the factory.

One of the possibilities under study is a performance pickup that would be targeted against Ford’s F-150 SVT Raptor, executives say.

Chrysler already offers the Ram Runner, which dresses up a Ram pickup with Mopar aftermarket parts, but the extra features are applied after the truck leaves the assembly plant.

“My boss would really like us to try to do a little more research on the Raptor and how it does (in the market),” Pat Dougherty, vice president-Mopar parts, sales and field operations, tells WardsAuto.

The Raptor design mirrors much of Mopar’s aftermarket mentality: Blacked-out grille and wheels, all-terrain tires and a modified undercarriage. But Ford builds its performance model alongside standard F-Series trucks on the regular assembly line.

“If we could see that the volume was significant enough that it makes sense to do it, we’ll do it,” Dougherty says. “But if we don’t, then we’ll continue to do it the way we do it.”

Mopar parts increasingly have been migrating to regular production vehicles. Rear bumpers on Jeep Wranglers and sidesteps on Ram pickups are two examples.

During a backgrounder here on Mopar-Chrysler concepts produced for the upcoming Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, UT, engineers emphasize fuel economy, lighter weight and cutting-edge technology.

Concepts built for the Moab expedition range from a “Wrangler Stitch” that replaces some sheet metal with translucent silver mesh to the “Wrangler Slim,” which offers a carbon-fiber hood to reduce weight.

“You can imagine as we move forward with the evolution of Jeep we’re going to have to start paying more attention to (aerodynamics),” Chris Nowak, senior manager-Mopar product development, says. “What other aftermarket company can put a vehicle like this in the wind tunnel?”

Guided by President Pietro Gorlier, a Fiat veteran appointed by CEO Sergio Marchionne to head the brand in 2009, Mopar recently added 25 employees dedicated to engineering and product development. With more support, expect more of the Mopar team’s input on future product.

“Volumes started to grow on all of our different product lines back in 2009,” Dougherty says. “At the time, we were kind of a skeleton crew of people.”

Chrysler custom-builds some vehicles for dealers in advance of customer orders and adds aftermarket items to the sticker price.

If demand for a particular package reaches sufficient volume, Chrysler would begin to make the vehicle at the factory, Doughtery says.

That might include future production of the aerodynamic, fuel-saving concepts.

“For a lot of the people who go off-roading (but) actually drive their vehicle as a daily driver, they want to make sure they’re getting fuel efficiency while they’re driving to work,” Doughtery says.

The six concepts Jeep and Mopar are taking to Moab this year include:

  • Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Concept, fashioned with blood-orange paint, 35-in. tires and 17-in. aluminum wheels and equipped with Chrysler’s 3.0L EcoDiesel engine.
  • Wrangler Mopar Recon, equipped with Mopar’s 6.4L HEMI V-8 crate engine, front and rear half-door and window kits, front and rear off-road modified bumpers, Warn-brand winch, high-clearance flat fenders, rock rails, a canvas soft top and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary hood.
  • Wrangler Stitch, a stripped-down Wrangler bearing a 3,000-lb. (1,361-kg) curb weight refashioned with SRT Viper seats, chrome fabric in place of the body panels, a lighter frame and axles and a carbon-fiber hood.
  • Wrangler Sand Trooper II, equipped with a 5.7L HEMI V-8, satin-black grille, hood lock, front and rear half-door and window kits, front and rear off-road modified bumpers, Warn-brand winch, Mopar flat fenders, rock rails, a vented hood and LED lighting.
  • Wrangler Flattop, equipped with a 1-piece, windowless hard top, a removed B-pillar, Katzkin leather seats, copper accents, 37-in. tires, DynaTrac Pro Rock 44 front axles, Dana 60 rear axles, TeraFlex sway bars and full traction control arms.
  • Wrangler Slim, featuring lightweight rock rails, lightweight rear bumper, black grille, LED headlights and anti-spin axle.

afoley@wardsauto.com