It’s 12 years since the Jeep Treo first appeared at the Tokyo Motor Show, but its concept is perhaps even more relevant in today’s post-financial-crash, megacity-led world.
The order came from Trevor Creed, then Chrysler Group’s senior design VP, to create something that “would look like a car that could hold its head up amongst all the wacko concepts that Tokyo tends to come up with”. The result was an anime-inspired midget of a machine with space for three and two of their bikes.
It’s taken Jeep until now to introduce a car as small as the Renegade, but the Treo makes even that look ostentatious.
Here’s what Sam Livingstone wrote at the time, reporting from the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show:
The Treo is this year's Jeep concept car that follows the 2002 Compass, 2001 Willys, 2000 Varsity, 1999 Commander and 1998 Jeepster in exploring the future potential of this famous off-road vehicle brand. It is also the most extreme Jeep concept car to date and this, according to the Treo design manager and exterior designer, Micheal Castiglione, is because it was created specifically for the Tokyo show where concept cars tend to be more extreme than in Europe or America.
The Treo was designed to address the needs of urban-dwelling young people a decade or more into the future, which is appropriate particularly given its debut in the capital of a country with a higher urban to rural population ratio than anywhere in the world.
For the team in the Chrysler Advanced Product Design Center designing the Jeep, they also envisaged this concept as 'the ultimate (American) student car'; compact for the campus grounds yet tough enough for weekend trips.
The Treo is a 'two-plus-one', with two seats at the front and one at the rear that can be easily folded to accommodate luggage instead of the third occupant. This unusual configuration dictates a cabin plan shape that tapers to the rear allowing the rear wings to be completely separate from the main body, and justify the high mounted spar wings that house the rear lamps and mounts for the two Jeep Rubicon mountain bikes that sit outboard.
A fuel-cell powertrain enables the concept to be freed from many traditional packaging constraints and this combines with the 'two-plus-one' arrangement to create the unusual proportions central to this vehicle concept.
It is over a foot shorter than the diminutive Suzuki Jimny and only a hand span longer than the original Mini, its wheels extend to the ends of the car and its height and width are the same as Honda's smallest SUV, the HRV.
Although a simple monospace form with clean surfaces, the flanks buckle out slightly low down at the rear to meet the separate rearmost section of the vehicle that connects the rear wheels.
This section in a dark, warm grey connects to a similar front section that houses the conspicuous tow hooks via a same-coloured ‘hiking boot tread' style detail on the side-sill plate.
The classic Jeep 'seven slot' grille at the front is a window into the cabin area, its graphic is repeated in relief at the rear and in its single slot form in the door handles and wheels.
Exposed allen-key bolts connect the outer section of the wings to the inner section suggesting easy replacement of these most-exposed bits of the exterior and the detailing of the recessed circular lamps also have some of the technical feel Castiglione said was inspired by products such as the Maglite torch.
The interior, by designer Greg Howell, has less of the exterior's 'tool like' aesthetic, with light warm hues and a very airy feel to the cabin (at least in the front) due to the deep glazing and 'seven slot' lower front window. The drive by wire steering system would enable the wheel to be moved for left or right-hand drive, the central HVAC, ICE and Nav system can be taken out for use elsewhere or for security reasons, and a small toolbox and first aid kit are neatly identified by embossed icons below the base of the windscreen.
The Treo's radical design concept made a very positive impression at an uncharacteristically sober Tokyo show and an 'Anime' (Japanese style animation) of the Treo helped show how it could be a relevant vehicle for tomorrow's Japanese youth. But beyond showing how the Jeep brand might appeal outside of America, the Treo is an exciting and realistic illustration of the types of vehicle that the growing number of urban living, active and young minded singles and couples will want in the future.