Chrysler CEO and parent company Fiat S.p.A boss Sergio Marchionne is playing chess while every other automaker is playing checkers. After filing for bankruptcy back in 2009, Chrysler made the decision to pour funds into the research and development of a transmission with more gears to better fuel economy and vehicle performance. Now, three years later, Chrysler, with some help from German transmission specialist ZF Friedrichshafen AG, is rolling out eight- and nine-speed automatic transmissions to row through in a variety of Chrysler Group’s portfolio.
Transmissions with more gears are usually found in luxury vehicles like BMW and Audi. Chrysler is working on a well-groomed transmission of its own after spending $1.3 billion on development. The nine-speed transmissions will only be found in Chrysler brand vehicles when production of the new gearbox begins in the first half of 2013. As for the eight-speed transmission, that will be employed in the Ram 1500, newer models of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, as well as the Dodge Challenger and the all-new Dart. The long-rumored Jeep Grand Wagoneer, believed to be joining the off-road brand’s portfolio in 2014, will also rely on the eight-speed transmission. Chrysler has made it known that anything that’s rear-wheel drive will most likely use the eight-speed gear box while the nine-speed transmission is meant for front-wheel drive vehicles.
The development of the eight- and nine-speed transmission, while it’s expected to boost fuel economy and vehicle performance, has been perceived as doing the bare minimum to get by President Obama’s proposed CAFE standards. Obama has proposed that all U.S automakers must double their corporate average fuel economy (hence the acronym CAFE) to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Some industry experts wonder why Chrysler won’t develop an electric powertrain for its own version of a hybrid.
Marchionne meets those criticisms without even saying a word. Through the first six months of 2012, combined sales of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, both of which use the eight-speed transmission, are up 68 percent. Both vehicles have been using the new transmission starting with the 2011 model year. Just for good measure, Chrysler will be rolling out an electric Fiat 500 next year, too. However, the electrified 500 is mainly to satisfy California’s “zero-emissions vehicle” requirements.
The new eight- and nine-speed transmissions will begin production at Chrysler’s Kokomo facility in Indiana later this year. Chrysler has already committed to investing $300 million into the Kokomo facility to better suit the production of the ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic gearboxes.