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