The fact that the XJ Wagoneer didn’t pan out as a replacement for the Grand Wagoneer was a minor issue, given that it was just a re-trimmed Cherokee. But the failure of the Comanche pickup must have been a harder pill to swallow. This one took a bit more doing: the rear of the Comanche has a separate frame under the bed that ties into the unibody Cherokee front body section, called Uni-Frame. Well, that’s not that hard. Still, when the Comanche came out, riding on the heels of the red-hot Cherokee, it seemed set to take the compact pickup market by storm. What happened?
It’s more like what didn’t happen: an extended cab. The Comanche came in two bed lengths, six and seven feet (shown here). But there was no extended cab option, and by 1986, when the Comanche arrived, that was practically the kiss of death, especially so in the compact pickup field. Both the Chevy S10 and the Ranger were sporting extended cabs by the time of the Comanche’s arrival.
Sure, all the competitors in the compact truck field were still selling some bare-bones short-bed regular cab trucks. But that’s not where the money was. The profitable sweet spot was with well-equipped extended-cab trucks, and the Comanche flubbed that. Especially since it wasn’t trying to compete on ultimate low price, but more on the Jeep brand.
The Comanche came in two and four-wheel drive versions, and the same engine lineup as the Cherokee. When the new 170 hp 4.0 L six arrived in 1987, the Comanche was totally in a league of its own, a genuine sport truck. Nothing else could touch it performance wise. But that didn’t solve the sales challenges either.
In addition to the lack of extended cab, there may have been other factors at play. By this time, Jeep dealers had moved away from the trucky Jeep lineage, as the sweet spot in the business was selling loaded Cherokee Limiteds to Mommy and Daddy. Profit margins on those Cherokees were significantly higher. And eventually, after Chrysler bought AMC, the production lines were better put to use building more of those Cherokees. The highest sales years for Cherokees came shortly after the Comanche was finally sent off to the reservation, after the 1992 model year. Chrysler had the Dodge Dakota, which also used the Jeep four as a base engine, and did offer an extended cab.