Chrysler 8-Speed AT Promises 4-MPG Gain; DDCT Delayed

Chrysler 8-Speed AT Promises 4-MPG Gain; DDCT Delayed

The auto maker does not fully explain the delay. A spokesman hints that Chrysler was not satisfied with the DDCT’s performance. “It’s got to be something that customers are happy with,” Vince Muniga tells WardsAuto.

Chrysler’s powertrain program takes one step forward with the model-year ’12 rollout of an 8-speed automatic transmission, and half a step back by delaying the introduction of a dual-clutch gearbox.

The new 8-speed will debut in the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger fullsize sedans. The auto maker today confirms their highway fuel economy ratings will jump as high as 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km), compared with the 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) delivered by ’11 cars that featured a 5-speed automatic.

Optional on lower-trim lines and standard equipment on high-end models, the ZF Friedrichshafen 8HP45 gearbox – which can be mated to a 3.6L Pentastar V-6 or 5.7L Hemi V-8 in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations – will make Chrysler the first domestic auto maker to offer an 8-speed.

Though production of ’12 300s and Chargers began in July at Chrysler’s plant in Brampton, ON, Canada, cars equipped with the new gearbox have yet to roll off the line. But their output is imminent, WardsAuto is told.

The same cannot be said for Chrysler 200 midsize cars equipped with a dual dry-clutch transmission. The auto maker had promised late availability for the 6-speed C636 DDCT in ’11 200s.

But the model year came and went without the gearbox, which was to be mated to Chrysler’s 2.4L I-4 World Engine. Production of ’12 200s began last month.

The auto maker does not fully explain the delay. A spokesman hints Chrysler was not satisfied with the DDCT’s performance. “It’s got to be something that customers are happy with,” Vince Muniga tells WardsAuto.

The delay is consistent with a renewed commitment to product quality that starts at the top. CEO Sergio Marchionne ordered late fixes to the new-for-’10 Jeep Grand Cherokee, a move that postponed the much-anticipated SUV’s debut.

But market response to the Jeep-brand flagship was unaffected. The Grand Cherokee was a finalist in the North American Truck of the Year competition, and sales through August were tracking 123.9% ahead of like-2010, according to WardsAuto data.

The 200 glitch is not the first misfortune Chrysler has had with a DCT rollout. The technology first was offered on export-market Dodge Journey cross/utility vehicles in 2008, but plans to expand availability to North America were scuttled with the bankruptcy of supplier Getrag.

Chrysler’s aggressive transmission plays are part of a $3 billion investment to upgrade its powertrain offerings, a key Marchionne priority as the auto maker strives to make cost-effective changes to meet pending U.S. fuel-economy regulations.

City-cycle fuel economy in the ’12 300 and Charger is expected to improve to 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km), a 5% hike from ’11 models, Chrysler says.

The 8HP45 features a sport mode for “spirited driving,” the auto maker says. Paddle controls will be available on some models, as first reported by WardsAuto in February.

The gear-ratio spread is 7.03. The transmission also is “fill for life,” which eliminates the need for fluid changes under normal driving conditions, Chrysler says.

ZF is the initial source, but Chrysler is upgrading its transmission plant in Kokomo, IN, to eventually handle production under a licensing deal with the Germany-based supplier.

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