The AEV Test Mule — One Sexy Jeep

Written by Chris Wood / Photos by Chris Wood, Scott Brady & Dean Osborne

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From the moment the first photos of this Jeep appeared on social media, AEV knew it had something special on its hands. It was a 470-HP V8 Wrangler, equipped with all of AEV’s accessories and wrapped in Jeep’s beautiful Desert Sand paint. The look was clean but rugged, with color-matched wheels giving the vehicle a subtle military vibe. Upon seeing photos of the vehicle, one Facebook follower went so far as to post “Sweet Jesus that’s one sexy Jeep” — and so continued the overwhelmingly positive public reaction.

Given the public’s enthusiasm for the Jeep, no one could have blamed AEV if it had whisked it off to a life on the tradeshow circuit, where thousands of people could enjoy seeing it firsthand. But AEV had other plans for this Jeep, which surprisingly enough called for sending it off for use as a field-testing mule. There, this “sexy Jeep” would be subjected to thousands of miles of harsh conditions so that AEV could once again examine the performance and durability of its Wrangler accessories and the Wrangler platform.

For those who are well familiar with AEV, you know that testing is an important part of the company’s product development. Much of this testing takes place in labs and proving grounds and even though these tests can be extremely severe, AEV knows there is still no substitute for real-world field-testing. For this particular Jeep, the field-testing would involve tackling three grueling 4WD routes of vastly different character. What follows is a glimpse into each route, the unique challenges they imposed on the Jeep and a record of how both AEV’s accessories and the Jeep Wrangler faired.

Dempster Highway (Arctic Circle)

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The first leg of AEV’s field-testing took place on the remote Dempster Highway. This 417-mile ribbon of dirt was constructed between 1958 and 1979 and traverses the Canadian sub-arctic wilderness of the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It is one of only two Canadian roadways to actually cross into the Arctic Circle and it serves as the only land-based supply line between the towns of Whitehorse and Inuvik. AEV chose to cross the Dempster Highway in the winter in order to benefit from the brutal, sub-zero conditions that grip the roadway.

During the winter the Dempster Highway is diabolical as it punishes a vehicle with a nearly constant blast of mud, snow and gravel. For this particular crossing, conditions were so bad at times that many portions of the Jeep’s undercarriage and body could literally not be identified through a casing of frozen muck. In fact for three days, a 6-inch layer of this stuff effectively welded the rear doors of the Jeep to the fender flares, rendering the doors inoperable. Despite this, the Jeep seamlessly soldiered on and successfully completed not only the Dempster Highway, but 300-miles of the Mackenzie River Ice Road and over 5000 highway miles going roundtrip between Seattle, Washington and Whitehorse, Canada.

Test result: Upon returning home we were extremely pleased to note that there had been zero mechanical failures on the Jeep and not a single item was loose or out of adjustment. Further, the Jeep and all of its accessories continued to function perfectly without so much as a squeak or vibration. Considering that some mornings in the Arctic had been so cold that we actually cringed before starting the engine, it was amazing to find the vehicle and its accessories operating as if the trip had never even taken place.

Oregon Back Country Discovery Route

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The second leg of AEV’s field-testing took place on the historic Oregon Back Country Discovery Route (OBDR). This 1000-mile path is comprised of a patchwork of decaying wagon tracks, Jeep trails, logging roads and snippets of paved highway. It traverses Oregon from the border of California to the border of Washington and along the way serves up a remarkable variation in terrain, ranging from volcanic high desert to evergreen-shrouded mountain ranges. AEV chose to cross the OBDR just one month after completing the Dempster Highway and quickly found that the conditions that made the OBDR harsh, couldn’t have been more different from those in the Arctic.

Where the Dempster Highway had tested the Jeep with mud, snow and severe cold, the OBDR did it with high heat, silt and a merciless roadbed of potholes and rock. Even with an average speed of only 15 mph, the trails and tracks shock-loaded and vibrated the Jeep’s every component like a jackhammer on Red Bull. In an effort to further stress the Jeep, it had been loaded to 1000lbs over GVWR and for nine days it labored under this excess weight. Despite the abuse, the Jeep went on to not only complete the OBDR, but another 1000 highway miles going roundtrip between Seattle, Washington and Lakeview, Oregon.

Test result: Upon returning home we were once again extremely pleased to note that there had been zero mechanical failures, but we did note that three bolts on an AEV control-arm bracket had loosened on the trail and needed to be re-torqued. Beyond that, the Jeep and all of its accessories once again continued to function perfectly without so much as a squeak or vibration. Given how ridiculous the trail impacts had been, particularly over the lava fields in Southern Oregon, it struck us as remarkable that loose bolts, squeaks and rattles weren’t found all over the vehicle.

Dusy Ershim Trail

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The third and final leg of AEV’s field-testing took place on the infamous Dusy Ershim Trail. This 33-mile Jeep track was constructed between 1956 and 1968 and snakes its way between the Courtright Reservoir and Kaiser Pass, in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.  This trail can best be described as a virtual non-stop gauntlet of boulders, fenced in by a literal wilderness of towering pines. At twice the length of the Rubicon Trail, the Dusy Ershim Trail is widely considered the more punishing of the two. AEV chose to cross the Dusy Ershim Trail just one month after completing the OBDR and just as the conditions on the OBDR and the Dempster Highway had been dramatically different from each other, so too were the conditions on the Dusy Ershim Trail, different yet again.

Where the Dempster Highway and OBDR had combined to freeze, heat, vibrate and smother the AEV Jeep, the Dusy Ershim Trail was all about a slow, brutal slog over California’s finest granite boulders. Over its entirety, this trail served up a relentless barrage of obstacles to torment the vehicle’s drivetrain, steering, bumpers, skid plates, wheels and of course, its suspension — which had to cope with a pounding from the rocks below, the constant torque-load of the engine and of course the endless demands for maximum articulation. Despite this punishment, the Jeep went on to not only complete the Dusy Ershim Trail, but another 2000 highway miles going roundtrip between Seattle, Washington and Shaver Lake, California.

Test Result: Upon returning home we noted our first mechanical failure, which had been a seized CV-Joint on the front driveshaft. Since this kind of failure is a known problem on lifted JK Wranglers, we had been prepared and simply replaced the driveshaft on the trail. Beyond that, the Jeep and its accessories were closely examined for any signs of fatigue, malfunction, misadjustment and looseness. Amazingly, other than lots of undercarriage scuffs and gouges, no problems could be found. In fact, once again the Jeep and it accessories continued to function perfectly without so much as a squeak or vibration. Considering all the broken vehicles, broken parts and even broken glass we passed while on the Dusy Ershim Trail, we could not have been happier with our results.

Conclusions

Each year AEV undertakes extensive field-testing to re-examine the performance and durability of its products, and the Jeep Wrangler platform. Ultimately this testing helps to ensure that each product will perform properly in a wide range of environments, and it helps identify areas where the Wrangler might be improved with new products. For this beautiful Desert Sand-colored AEV Jeep, it had come through this grueling 9700-mile test needing only a driveshaft replacement and a bolt tightening, and overall it demonstrated not only how dependable the AEV-equipped Wrangler is, but how versatile. And these are key points for all of us to consider who need a single 4WD vehicle that can reliably do everything from comfortable highway cruising, to heavily-loaded overlanding, to boulder-crawling — and maybe even the tradeshow circuit! Few vehicles can truly do all these things well, but the AEV-equipped Wrangler genuinely can.

—  CW —

Chevy and AEV Unveil the Colorado ZR2 Bison

Factory steel bumpers with integrated winch provisions and recovery points and Boron-steel skid plates, all co-developed by Chevrolet and AEV, make Bison ready for off-the-grid adventures

Introducing the Chevrolet ZR2 Bison, the most capable off-road truck in its class meets the most innovative manufacturer in the aftermarket. The ZR2 Bison was a co-development project between Chevrolet and American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). Bison marks the first occasion that AEV has collaborated with any OE manufacturer on a production vehicle of this magnitude.

Colorado ZR2 Bison on Drummond Island

The Colorado ZR2 Bison joins Chevrolet’s segment-redefining midsize truck lineup as an all-new performance variant. Colorado’s constant innovation – including a segment-exclusive diesel engine (excludes other GM vehicles), a new V6 gas engine and 8-speed transmission combo only two years into production, and the ZR2 performance variant – has allowed Chevy to carve out more than a quarter of the midsize truck segment in less than four years in the marketplace.

With the help of several key integrated AEV components, this most extreme Colorado yet pushes the boundaries of Chevrolet off-road ability with features that optimize the rock crawling and overlanding capabilities already present on the Z71 and ZR2 models.

Colorado ZR2 Bison with AEV Designed Skid Plates

For maximum protection of key undercarriage elements while driving over rocky, jagged terrain, Bison features five skid plates that cover the engine oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case and both front and rear locking differentials.  

Designed by AEV, these skid plates also offer another rarity for a production vehicle in that they are constructed of hot-stamped Boron steel.

Close Up of Colorado ZR2 Bison Front Bumper

That focus on off-road protection also extends to the AEV-designed stamped steel front and rear bumpers, which offer excellent protection while traversing obstacles like rocks and logs. 

Trail recovery is another key component of these bumpers, with the front featuring winch provisions and recovery points integrated into the rear.  Bison also features standard fog lights below the traditional headlights.

Colorado ZR2 Bison Rear Bumper Designed by AEV

“More and more enthusiasts are discovering that Colorado is ideal for off-roading, especially overland travel,” said Sandor Piszar, director of Marketing, Chevrolet Truck.

“The Colorado Z71 offers a full suite of off-road equipment, the maneuverability of a midsize truck and the driving range of a class-exclusive diesel engine. The Colorado ZR2 offers even greater off-road capability than Z71 with class-exclusive front and rear locking differentials and Multimatic DSSVTM dampers. And now, with Bison, we offer customers an even more extreme turn-key off-road truck ready to tackle your next adventure.”

Colorado ZR2 Bison on a trail at Michigan's Drummond Island

The 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison goes on sale in January, 2019 – modified for extreme off-road use and backed by a full factory limited warranty.  

The Bison is also distinguished by an exclusive, flow-through “CHEVROLET” lettered grille replacing the traditional bow-tie. The 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires wrap all-new, ZR2 Bison-specific 17x 8 inch aluminum wheels. The truck comes standard with an all-terrain ZR2 Bison spare tire and special larger ZR2 Bison fender flares. The Bison-specific wheels and fender flares were also co-developed by AEV. 

Colorado ZR2 Bison with AEV Components on Drummond Island

This new Colorado variant also features “Bison” decals on the bed sides, an “AEV Bison” logo on the tailgate and embroidered AEV-logo floor liners and headrests. 

Customers will also be able to purchase an accessory snorkel for ZR2 Bison from AEV, ideal for air filtration while driving on dusty trails. This feature is available for all Colorado pickups.  

Snorkel and Headrest on a Colorado ZR2 Bison

“We’ve been following Colorado since its introduction, and the ZR2 really captured our attention,” said Dave Harriton, founder and president of AEV. “As this is the first Chevrolet vehicle we’ve ever given the AEV treatment to, we wanted to do something extra special in bringing five hot-stamped Boron steel skid plates to off-road customers for the first time in the industry. We also expect that Colorado drivers will love the added ruggedness of our front and rear bumpers on ZR2 Bison.”

Specifically the AEV-designed and developed components for Chevrolet ZR2 Bison include:

  • Winch-compatible, stamped-steel Front Bumper with integrated fog lights.
  • Five hot-stamped Boron steel underbody skid plates protecting the front end, engine oil pan, transfer case, gas tank, and rear differential.
  • Stamped-steel Rear Bumper with robust A356-T6 cast-aluminum recovery points and chassis-mounted tubular corner protection.
  • Bison-specific injection molded fender flares for additional tire coverage and an aggressive look.
  • AEV-designed, Bison-specific cast-aluminum wheels.
  • Interior and exterior AEV branding package.
  • Optional AEV snorkel available directly from AEV or GM dealerships.

The ZR2 Bison also duplicates the full equipment list of the Colorado ZR2.

Stay up to date about the Bison

AEV’s new High-Capacity Springs on the UTBDR

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Among 4WD enthusiasts, Utah is known worldwide as the home of Moab and the Easter Jeep Safari. Each year the famous Easter Jeep Safari attracts thousands of 4WD enthusiasts who come down to enjoy Moab’s legendary slickrock landscapes. However, it turns out that Moab’s landscapes are just a fraction of what Utah has to offer and for 4WD enthusiasts who want to see just how diverse and amazing this state really is, the Utah Back Country Discovery Route offers a front row seat.

Group of Jeeps driving down the road

The Utah Back Country Discovery Route (UTBDR) is a 4WD track that stretches roughly 900 miles across Utah – from the border of Arizona to the border of Idaho. Along the way it passes through some of Utah’s most stunning locations including the Valley of the Gods, Lockhart Basin, San Rafael Swell and the Uintas Mountains. During the month of July, AEV’s Chris Wood guided a team of AEV friends across the UTBDR – over which they traveled self-contained, camped remotely each night and ultimately completed the route in nine days. We hope you will be inspired by Chris’ photos from the trip and consider running the UTBDR yourself.

For those of you who own JK Wranglers and like to tackle long, self-contained trips such as the UTBDR, you may have noticed your JK has gotten particularly heavy with the addition of accessories like a fridge, roof-top tent, storage drawer system and much more. In fact if you’ve weighed your JK on a truck-scale, you may have been surprised to find that it came in well above GVWR. If so, you might be interested to know that AEV recently introduced its new High-Capacity Springs for JKs like yours. These springs were specifically designed not only to help level your JK, but drastically improve its stability, too. (Note: the white, gray and green JKs all feature these new springs in the UTBDR photos)

Party members talking at a stop on the trip.

AEV JK High Capacity Springs >>

If you would like more information about the UTBDR or AEV’s High-Capacity Springs, you can reach out to Chris at chris@aev-conversions.com . You can also visit Back Country Discovery Routes at https://ridebdr.com/ or American Expedition Vehicles at www.aev-conversions.com

AEV Utah BDR Trip Gallery:

Scenery from AEV trip
AEV Jeep on the trail
AEV Jeep at a stop on the trail
Jeeps coming down the road
AEV Jeep overcoming obstacles
Group of Jeeps driving down the road, shot from a distance
AEV Jeep parked in the shade.
Tour member playing fetch with his dog in front of a Jeep.
Mountain scenery fromt he trip.
AEV Pintler wheels mounted on a Jeep at a stop
AEV Jeep with snorkel, kicking up a large amount of dust while overcoming an obstacle.
Group of party members sitting around a fire.
Three AEV Jeeps parked at a stop
AEV Jeep with Snorkel
AEV Jeeps at camp setup.
Additional mountain scenery from the trip.
AEV premium bumper mounted on a Jeep on the trip
AEV Jeep at a stop with tail gate open
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How long must we wait for AEV parts for JL Wrangler?

We’ve been hearing it ever since the first Jeep Wrangler JL models began rolling off the line in Toledo in late 2017: When will we see the new JL accessories from AEV?

Our answer? Soon! But not until they are perfect!

At AEV, patience is not just a virtue—it’s a necessity. Sure, it’s frustrating to see that many competitors have already rushed to market with accessory parts for the JL. But AEV did not make its name as the world’s premier Wrangler accessory manufacturer by rushing things. Our approach to developing JL parts will be the same that made our JK products so successful. We will be methodical, detailed, and patient. Because we want to get things exactly right again.

AEV purchased several JL Wranglers as soon as they became available, and our design team and engineering staff immediately began dismantling and modeling every inch of the vehicle. Virtually the entire vehicle has been mapped and converted to data for our state-of-the-art Computer Aided Design (CAD) system.

In CAD our designers are free to bring full creative license to the new JL bumpers, hoods, skid plates (and other undercarriage protection), wheels, and more that we will ultimately build. Engineers can test feasibility before money is invested in expensive tooling, and before a part is ever stamped and placed on a Jeep. And while this OE approach to manufacturing slows development time at the start, it definitely means we will have ingeniously designed, longer lasting, and more durable parts when they do come to market.

So AEV asks its loyal customers for a bit more patience. Quality takes time, and AEV never sacrifices quality. But what we can tell you now is that we are revamping every product in our JK line for the new JL Wrangler, and we are developing several new products that we’ve never done before. The look will be all new, and the quality, fit, performance, and durability will be even better.

At first glance, the JL Wrangler does not appear to be much of a departure from the JK. But upon closer inspection we can see significant differences and/or improvement. For one, the JL has a wider variety of trim levels and available configurations with different flares, grilles, and hoods. This will challenge us a manufacturer to develop bumpers for all of these permutations.  

Additionally, the tailgate and tire carrier on JL are significantly different, and while the suspension system looks similar it is actually totally different. For one, the handling is tremendous, with a super tight steering radius on the four-door JL that turns like a much shorter wheelbase two-door Jeep. AEV has already spent months developing our trademark custom-tuned springs and shocks and, as of mid-2018, is just beginning to build suspension prototypes for extensive testing.

And on the subject of testing—AEV insists on exhaustive testing on all products—another necessity that slows the path to market. AEV performs OE-level stability control testing and corrosion testing. There is even thermal testing to see how temperature expands and contracts plastic and metal parts. The average test takes 16 weeks, and if results are not optimal the product goes back to the drawing board.

So, will AEV ever be first to market? No. Not if we’re doing it right. In mid-2018 there are already companies selling JK bumpers to JL owners, or marketing roughed-out suspensions. AEV believes that patience in the short-term results in the ultimate long-term goal—extremely well-conceived JL components made in the USA using world-class automotive technology, manufacturing, and materials.

So we ask you to hold on a little longer. AEV is coming very soon with all the goods for JL Wrangler! Expect to see our first JL Wrangler parts at SEMA 2018!

AEV RIDES INTO MOAB, UTAH FOR EASTER JEEP SAFARI 2018

Moab, Utah is a mecca for off-road enthusiasts, with dozens of challenging red rock trails through some of the most breathtaking country in the world. Red Rock 4-Wheelers of Moab organized the 52nd annual Easter Jeep Safari, attended by thousands of wheelers from across North America. Of course AEV was there with several vehicles and employees. EJS is a great time to meet with customers and hear their ideas for new products and for improving current products, and for testing products in development. But we’ll admit—mostly we just love driving great vehicles on fantastic terrain as much as anyone else. We learned a lot, and had a great time doing it, as we do every year.

AEV Jeeps in Moab

AEV EASTER JEEP SAFARI CUSTOMER RIDE

Every year at Easter Jeep Safari AEV hosts its Customer Ride, a pre-registered event that allows us to show appreciation to the customers we serve. In all 20 vehicles traversed the Strike Ravine Trail as AEV’s Chris Wood, a certified master instructor with the International 4WD Trainers Association, occasionally took time to stop our party and demonstrate proper technique for surmounting some of the more challenging obstacles. The 11 mile trail took much of the day to complete with a stop for a scenic lunch included. AEV customers interested in signing up for the 2019 Customer Ride should contact their AEV sales representative.

AEV customer tour overhead shot
AEV at Strike Ravigne

 

CAMPING TRIP! FIELD-TESTING A NEW SUSPENSION SYSTEM AT LOCKHART BASIN

While our team was based in Moab for the week, Chris Wood and a few others broke out to nearby Lockhart Basin for a couple of days to field test AEV’s upcoming High Capacity DualSport Suspension system. The lightly used trail includes everything from unmaintained roads to technical rock crawling as well as offering some epic camp sites. The trip was also a scouting mission for Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR), which seeks to establish and preserve off-highway routes for 4 x 4 vehicles and adventure motorcycles. From the looks of these fantastic images, it appears the guys discovered some amazing country in Lockhart Basin.

Two AEV Jeeps with roof rack tents

 

CATCHING UP WITH BF GOODRICH!

AEV is grateful to have a close working partnership with BF Goodrich Tires. In fact BF Goodrich tires are standard on all AEV upfit packages for Jeep Wrangler and Ram trucks. In 2017 BFG sent us a set of their unreleased Mud-Terrain KM3 tires for testing and feedback. Since then AEV has put 12,000 miles on the KM3s and we’ve been impressed with how well they have performed in severe weather conditions, on the highway, and in a variety of challenging off-road terrains. All week in Moab, wheelers definitely took notice of the new tires on AEV vehicles, and we anxiously await the release of the new KM3s to market.

AEV RIDES INTO MOAB, UTAH FOR EASTER JEEP SAFARI 2018

 

LET’S HIT THE TRAILS!

Rather than standing under a tent and passing out brochures, each day at Moab AEV’s vehicles were on the trails. AEV likes to get out where rubber meets the rock and feel the sport of off-road wheeling. We like to meet our customers and potential customers where they are most at home—where we can stay in touch with their passion for the sport, hear their concerns, and also display the true capability of AEV vehicles on some of the most demanding off-road courses in North America. The Easter Jeep Safari is one of the most important events on our calendar, and one we look forward to each year!

AEV Prospector on the trail.

Prospector XL Tray Bed overcoming an obstacle

AEV Jeep out on the trail in Moab Utah

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