Go-Fast Baja Trucks Are A Different Animal Than The Rock Crawlers That AEV Is Used To

Ram Rebel TRX
2016 Ram Rebel TRX Concept

American Expedition Vehicles has carved its reputation for being a market-leading off-road vehicle upfitter for those looking to punch through the trails as deep as possible. Originally working with Jeep Wrangler SUVs since its founding in 1997, the privately held company has expanded into the fullsize truck segment with the Ram HD Prospector XL, as well as the midsize truck segment with the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. One would then assume that AEV would love to work on off-road half-ton trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor, or perhaps the upcoming Ram Rebel TRX. But that’s simply not the case here.

“We could have gotten into the Raptor years ago, but we feel that’s kind of getting out of our specialty,” AEV marketing manager Matt Feldermann told MC&T, referring to the pre-runner truck scene that the Raptor currently has cornered. The Ram Rebel TRX will likely appeal to the same audience.

“We know our niche. There’s a lot of guys that are good at going fast in the desert, and we’re located in Michigan and Montana. It’s just not our expertise.”

That’s not to say they couldn’t hypothetically do it.

“On paper, we know how to design a good suspension, but we’re shooting in the dark when it comes to what we’d need to make a fast suspension work in the desert. We know how to make something work awesome on the road and on the trail – technical rock crawling, heavily wooded two-track… when you get out into the pre-runner stuff it’s a different ball game. It’s not the right equipment for that job,” explained Feldermann.

Like the Ford F-150 Raptor, the upcoming Ram Rebel TRX – which has been confirmed by FCA last year – is expected to fall into the sort of pre-runner/trophy truck inspired category. It’s expected that the TRX will be powered by none other than a varian of the 6.2L supercharged Hellcat engine found in the Dodge Charger SRT and Challenger SRT muscle cars.

Additionally, as MC&T first reported, the Chevrolet Silverado ZRX will eventually find its way to market a few years from now, but won’t have the awesome power on tap as expected out of the T-Rex or even the current-gen Raptor.

Ford is expected to launch an all-new F-150 by the 2021 model year, with a new Raptor variant following shortly after, as well as a fully electric variant.

“I think (Ram Rebel TRX) is going to dance more in the Raptor realm. And we’re not a go-fast company,” said Feldermann.

Ram Rebel TRX
Alleged Ram Rebel TRX prototype spotted at Silver Lake Sand Dunes. Video by 5th Gen Rams.

Fans of American Expedition Vehicles may also have noticed that the upfitter doesn’t spend much time with half-ton trucks at all, despite their massive popularity when looking at total vehicle sales every quarter.

“Honestly out of everything we do, the half ton truck is the lowest common denominator. It’s a very tough business case to do a half ton,” said Feldermann. “We only did (Ram 1500 Recruit) because we could share a front bumper and enough of the tooling from Ram Heavy Duty (Prospector XL), so it wasn’t as big of a risk. I don’t know if we would have done it if we couldn’t share a bumper between the two.

The vehicle display during the 2019 AEV Open House.

The point nevertheless stands that pickup trucks are the most accessorized vehicles on the road, according to SEMA market data. Feldermann continued to explain why AEV avoids the segment.

“Half ton trucks are the most accessorized vehicles on the market, but we don’t really make accessories… we make full packages, very high end. It’s not just a brush guard, it’s a full front bumper. It’s integrated fog lights and winch mounts. It’s something completely different than the accessory market. If we were in the bug shield business, we would start with half tons all day long,” he said.

Fair point.

“There’s volume in the half ton truck segment, but you have to think what percentage of that volume are enthusiasts. You have to consider the millions of lease vehicles in this country that accounts for a lot of it. You look at FCA, they sell way more Ram 1500 pickups than they do Jeep Wranglers, but it’s that percentage of Wrangler owners that’s so high who are enthusiasts. In the aftermarket, it makes the Wrangler the shining star. With Ram 1500, it’s a very low percentage in the scheme of things,” Feldermann continued.

“It’s the nature of our products that make half tons always on the fine line of if it’s a good idea or not. Where for heavy duty, the volume is not as there (compared to half-tons), but in the HD market you have more enthusiasts. Like the diesel enthusiasts, the guys that tow, or ones that want more protection. So you get a higher percentage of enthusiasts even though the volume is not there.”

AEV has been building its portfolio in the midsize truck and SUV segment, such as the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison Tray Bed Concept, pictured.

Despite not focusing on the volume-heavy half-ton truck market, save for the Ram 1500 Recruit, it’s full steam ahead with upcoming projects targeted towards the overland and rock-crawling off-road scene.

“The biggest opportunity for AEV is JL Wrangler and Gladiator. Everybody is focused on this iceberg tip of (Wrangler) parts that we showed at SEMA 2018 and there’s so much they haven’t seen yet that’s so exciting for JL,” Feldermann said.

Then there’s the Gladiator, which AEV takes unofficial credit for.

“It’s no secret that (the Jeep Gladiator) was inspired by the AEV Brute a bit. That was very much a breakeven halo vehicle for us, and that was on the line of even being affordable. Each one was hand built, and the man hours were insane,” he claimed.

Nevertheless, they persisted with the Brute project.

“We just wanted to break even on it because it got us so much notoriety. With that being said, there was a lot of things that we wanted to do that just didn’t make sense because the volume was so low. Over five years we made maybe between 375 to 400 – over five years! That’s very tough to make a business case of something unique and special for that vehicle. It’s very difficult to do creative things on that kind of volume,” Feldermann said.

This hurdle evaporates with FCA offering a Jeep pickup truck from the factory.

“With Gladiator, now we’re talking mass-produced vehicles. So now we can think outside the box with things we had to make a case for before. I think that gives us a lot of opportunities.” 

Expect to see an AEV-upfitted Jeep Gladiator at the 2019 SEMA Show in November.

Written by Manoli Katakis

Muscle Cars & Trucks was founded by Manoli Katakis - an automotive media veteran that has been covering the latest car news since 2009. His journalism has uncovered dozens of major product changes, updates, plans, and cancellations long before automakers were ready to make things official.

Some highlights over the years of his reporting include the uncovering of the Zora trademark before anybody else reported on the coming of a mid-engine Corvette, as well as the dead-accurate reporting of the coming of the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, two years before it hit the market, and even before the debut of the concept vehicle. This type of reporting has immediately continued here, with reports of the original seventh-generation Camaro plans being shelved, as well as what's in store for the Chevrolet Silverado.

Some of his work can be found on massive automotive media outlets, such as Motor1. He also has been a guest on the 910AM Radio Station with Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne, as well as the enthusiast-oriented Camaro Show podcast.

Over the years, Manoli has interviewed various automotive industry titans, leaders, and people that make things happen otherwise. These include figureheads such as GM CEO Mary Barra, GM President Mark Reuss, automotive aftermarket icon Ken Lingenfelter, Dodge firebrand Tim Kuniskis, along with various chief engineers of vehicles such as the Ford F-150 & Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro & Corvette, and many more.

At MC&T, Manoli is taking his journalism expertise, deeply planted sources, driving abilities, and automotive industry knowledge to new levels, covering more vehicles and brands than ever before. This is the place where you will continue to read groundbreaking stories about American performance vehicles, pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles. Here is where you’ll also read insights and quotes from various automotive subject matter experts on the latest relevant products, as well as some of the latest official news from their manufacturers.

Fun facts: he also once beat Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner in an autocross with a Chevrolet Bolt EV. The biggest vehicle he’s ever driven is a John Deere mining truck. Besides a go-kart, the smallest vehicle he’s driven has been a Hyundai i10. He’s also spent time in the cockpit of various American performance vehicle icons, including the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, Dodge Challenger Demon, and Ford Mustang GT350R. He has reviewed dozens of trucks, SUVs, and performance vehicles over the years.

One of his favorite new vehicles on the market today happens to be the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. He is also a card carrying member of the Sports Car Club of America, and regularly participates in Detroit Region autocross events.


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  1. AEV…LOL!!! Did he really just say “people are so focused on the tip of the iceberg parts for the wrangler they showed at SEMA 18’”??? Ummm, well yeah dummy! You showed them to us, we like them, and we’ve been patiently waiting. So, if you don’t want to sell them just let us know. I’ll be glad to move on to another product or company. Especially since your now showing off stuff at SEMA 19’ and still haven’t delivered on the 18’ parts! It’s like “Hey, were so famous now, look, Jeep made a gladiator and its all because of us” blah blah blah! So, your taking credit for Jeep making the CJ8 too? I think the owner is an arrogant dude anyway. Saw a YouTube video of him giving a walk around of something they built and he is a little big headed for sure. Just admit it bud…you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and can’t deliver. Stop all the “we take our time and really engineer this and that and want it to be perfect B/S” etc…And just day “we saw dollar signs in the Colorado and w/Dodge”. Then we, who despite not liking you personally, can either still wait for you guys to glacially continue to move along, or we can jump ship. I mean really… it’s past ridiculous at this point.

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