You may have heard of American Expedition Vehicles, but to really know AEV requires a good, long look behind the proverbial curtain. In a nutshell, AEV produces some of the best engineered and most off road-capable accessories for Jeeps and Ram trucks. It also makes custom turn-key vehicles that will excel in off-road conditions but are designed for everyday use.
I recently spent a couple of days just outside of Detroit, driving all of AEV’s offerings and hanging out at its center of operations. Normally, I’m a pretty jaded guy when it comes to customization operations, but after I saw just how much engineering goes into their products, I walked away thoroughly impressed.
AEV’s main building is equal parts distribution center and factory; to say there are a few spare tires, hoods, and engines lying around doesn’t really do it justice.
There’s almost always someone moving boxes around on a forklift while someone else is working on building a new Jeep or Ram. If it seems a little complex, it’s really only the final phases of a wildly elaborate process that more or less mirrors how Jeep itself produces parts.
Everything at AEV is not only engineered to factory standards, but in some cases it's actually stamped out by the same local companies that supply Jeep itself, sometimes even using the same machinery. That’s the entire point of keeping a base in Detroit, while the company’s founder works from a plot of land in Montana: the network of OEM suppliers is key to keeping everything AEV makes looking like it came from the factory.
The Brute Double Cab
After a not-so-brief walkaround of the factory, I hopped behind the wheel of AEV’s most famous creation: The Brute Double Cab. As you can see, it’s a four-door Jeep that’s been stretched into the Jeep pickup truck you’ve always wanted.
AEV literally cuts the frame, lengthens it, then adds additional support to keep rigidity levels around the same as stock. The end result is that, combined with AEV’s proprietary suspension combinations developed in conjunction with heavy-hitters like Bilstein—more on that in a second—it doesn’t exactly drive like a Jeep: you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in something more European or Japanese.
As cool of a halo vehicle as the Brute is, though, it’s not AEV’s bread and butter. Dealing with four-door Wranglers, however, absolutely is.
Yeah, it's got a Hemi
When AEV decides to go all out on a build, that means pulling the body off the frame, ripping out the drivetrain, and swapping in a 450 hp Hemi V8. At first, climbing into a Hemi-powered Jeep is a weird experience, since you have no idea what to expect. On startup, it sounds like a pickup truck, not some monster 4x4 hell bent on killing anything in its path. Out on the road, it's pretty much the same story: in terms of ride quality and ease of driving, the four-door Wrangler is very much like the Brute.
Then you put your foot down. 450 hp in a Wrangler might not feel the same as 450 hp in a Challenger, but it’s not exactly a slouch, and you’re going faster than you legally should in a hurry.
Truth be told, I hopped in a non-Hemi Jeep and, when no one was looking, I took a roundabout at speeds I wouldn't attempt in your average sedan. That’s when a weird concept hit me: this thing corners. I don't just mean for a Jeep, either. The tires protested, but the vehicle's behavior was very stable and predictable.
I'm not the only one that crazy, though. I’m told that one of AEV’s guys took one to a Ferrari club track day to show off its capabilities. I hope it’s obvious that the Ferraris were faster; that’s not the point. The point is that the suspension calibration on these Jeeps is so intricate that it’s perfectly capable of taking you to work in comfort in the morning, hitting a race track the next day, then conquering some of the most extreme trails you’re allowed to drive in America.
To find out how all that came to be, I went back to the shop.
Digging a little deeper, every part AEV makes is thought out to the Nth degree. The level of engineering is so deep that I’d be willing to bet over 90% of AEV’s customers don’t even fully appreciate what’s going on. There are multiple port holes in the differential cover so you know exactly how much oil to put in it—front or back. If you have no idea what that means, don’t worry: someone you’re offroading with probably does, and they’ll geek out over a detail like that.
The bumpers are designed to fit both US and EU regulations, and have enough clearance to ensure larger tires will never rub against them, no matter the terrain. They’re also designed to deflect things like deer out and away from the vehicle, rather than up and into the windshield. To get a feel for it, most parts are 3D printed, modified, re-scanned, and printed again in an iterative process that's very similar to how the major manufacturers do it.
What really got me though, was the suspension. In setting its Jeeps up, AEV didn’t design a bunch of parts and toss them on a test vehicle. Without getting overly technical here, its engineers designed everything from scratch to work together without distorting driving dynamics, and worked with some of the most engineering-heavy firms in the world to properly calibrate everything.
Of course, how nice you want your vehicle to be is entirely up to the spare change floating around in your pocket. It’s all part of a corporate philosophy of chasing gains without sacrificing quality. On that front, job well done.
Very recently, AEV unveiled its first Ram product: The Prospector. It's the culmination of more than two years of research and development. Yes, I drove it while I was there, and yes, it's every bit as awesome as it looks. Stay tuned for the full report on that one.
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