Chrysler Group LLC has announced that it will begin offering eight-speed transmissions across its model line and plans to introduce the industry’s first nine-speed transmission next year.
The company’s vice president of transmission powertrain and driveline engineering Mircea Gradu said, “I’m convinced that, sooner or later, others will come up with similar solutions. Hopefully, the time will be as long as possible until they catch up with the technology.”
As rival automakers invest in hybrid and all-electric technologies, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has focused on improving the company’s traditional gasoline drivetrains to boost sales and meet increasingly strict corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. The Obama administration has said that it would like to see the standard raised to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Alan Baum of Baum & Associates automotive research and analysis firm in suburban Detroit says Chrysler must be highly aggressive and innovative if it is to meet the proposed standards without focusing on hybrids and all-electric models. “Looking at how the various automakers are going to satisfy CAFE, for most of the automakers you can come up with a pretty reasonable path to get there, and then you look at Chrysler,” says Baum. “The answer,” he said, “is the transmissions.”
Since 2007, Chrysler has reportedly invested $1.3 billion to improve its transmissions and Baum says, “They’re getting tremendous differentiation from their old product.”
LMC Automotive powertrain analyst Michael Omotoso says Marchionne’s strategy makes sense considering the relatively low demand for hybrids and all-electric vehicles in the U.S. and Europe. “They’re doing basically the bare minimum to satisfy government regulations,” said Omotoso. “Their strategy is to meet the standards with minimum investment.”
The strategy may also be one borne of necessity. Demand in Fiat’s home market has dried up amid consumer concerns about the European credit crisis and cut R&D budgets to the bone.
Chrysler’s new nine-speed transmissions are being developed in association with ZF Friedrichshafen AG and will reportedly boost the average fuel efficiency of the model line by as much as 16 percent.
In 2011, Chrysler began offering an eight-speed transmission in its Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans. The new transmission boosted highway mileage by 15 percent and increased sale by an impressive 68 percent during the first half of this year.