By on October 17, 2013

As the plot thickens in Toledo and un-shipped Cherokees start to pile up in the storage lots, there’s a new conspiracy theory being passed around to explain Chrysler’s problems.

We received this email earlier today, and while we can’t vouch for the writer or the contents, what if he’s right?

I was going to send to TTAC Staff… but I heard [from] a few Chrysler engineers that part of the 9 speed launch issue at Toledo was being drawn out to lower the VEBA price if the shares got into court proceedings by end of the year.

Now, this really sounds less likely than the reality that Chrysler and their supplier just FUBARed it by running simulations instead of real world testing until it was too late, which I have also heard. But, this rumor is more fun and don’t forget Machiavelli was Italian and wore a sweater vest!

Well, that may be a rumor too.

But, with the price being a couple BILLION dollars different that’s still less than a few months hit on a late launch.

BTW, these guys… were sure the issue was going to be fixed before their UF Chrysler 200 launch in March/April… even though they use the same engines and FWD part of the 9 speed. Classic, just classic.

So. Crazy conspiracy theory or on the level? To me it fails part of the test for this sort of thing, which is that it requires the connivance of too many people. I want to believe that there is a secret Star Chamber making long-term tactical decisions to ensure the future success of Chrysler, but if such a group exists, surely they were formed extremely recently. At least after the 2.7-liter V-6. Unless that was part of the conspiracy too.

In fact, you can easily argue that anybody powerful enough to create the scenario above would also be powerful enough to keep me from writing an arti

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106 Comments on “Nine Speeds Of Grey: What’s Really Going On With Cherokee Transmissions?...”


  • avatar
    bachewy

    LOL looks like you got cut off there!

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Oh dear…well, no time for tears, we have the makings of a scoop on our hands, and the ship needs a skipper!

      On behalf of the B&B, I’d like to extend my heartiest congratulations to Derek Kreindler on his sudden ascension to ACTING Editor and Chief!

      May your buildings go condo!

    • 0 avatar
      CelticPete

      From what I read the transmission works fine with the 3.2 V6. Its the 2.4 – it never shifts into 9th as the engine doesn’t provide enough torque for it to be useful there. Anything but downhill would shift it to 8th..

      My guess is they overrated the power of the 2.4 and need a different differential on there to lower the gearing..

  • avatar
    Akaishi

    DON’T SAY CANDLEJ

  • avatar
    mike978

    The “they didn`t do enough reali world testing” seems most likely. I wouldn`t expect a delay of one product (albeit a big one for Jeep) for one of FIATs five brands in the US would materially effect the stock price. Especially as the email states that the multi billion gap is much bigger than a delayed launch would cost. Surely that would be factored into any stock price calculations.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      WHAT stock price? Chrysler is a privately-owned LLC. If there were stock trading, the price would have been easy to calculate. Fiat is publicly traded and problems with Chrysler MIGHT have an effect, but only to the extent that there’s less cash available in a merger.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Mature companies are typically valued based upon multipliers of earnings.

        Spending more on R&D, and earning less revenue due to lower sales would reduce net earnings, which could reduce the value of the company.

        But if the company is valued on forward earnings (and it should be), then the bad launch becomes less relevant. If anything, a delayed launch provides the VEBA with an argument that 2014 or 2015 earnings will exceed 2013 earnings, as that is a one-time event.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “I heard [from] a few Chrysler engineers that part of the 9 speed launch issue at Toledo was being drawn out to lower the VEBA price if the shares got into court proceedings by end of the year.”

    Translation: It’s not our fault that the engineering was bad.

    • 0 avatar
      jrhmobile

      Perceptive analysis. Wrong perception, but perceptive.

      The transmission/transfer case unit is produced by ZF. The Tier One supplier has been crowing about providing these units for months. About the only thing Chrysler may have engineered on this transmission is the bellhousing bolt pattern.

      Now if you’re saying they’re washing their hands of it because some Guido dealmaker subbed it out to a Euro-German supplier, well, that’d be another story …

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I thought I read the ZF unit is produced under license by Chrysler but I’m prepared to be wrong.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Now if you’re saying they’re washing their hands of it because some Guido dealmaker subbed it out to a Euro-German supplier, well, that’d be another story …”

        In part, that is what I’m saying. I’ve been speculating for some time that there has been some sort of ongoing disconnect between ZF and Chrysler.

        • 0 avatar
          IndianaDriver

          I don’t see a disconnect – if anything, the 2 companies have gotten closer over the years. Look at how they are linked with the 8 speed transmissions and with ZF producing differentials and axles for Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups in Marysville, Michigan.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Complaining about how your suppliers and subcontractors can’t find their asses with both hands tied behind their backs is a traditional engineering pastime.

        It’s usually true, too.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      The VEBA trial is 11 months away. How long can they delay the release of the Cherokee now that it’s been shown to the public? The news so far has probably already put doubts in many potential buyers’ minds; if the delay goes on much longer people are going to fear ever going near one.

      Unless Marchionne was hoping for an earlier trial date, and now the problems are going to be miraculously suddenly resolved.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Sabotage is still an awesome video and song.

    Yeah this sounds like bologna. Remember the simplest explanation is often the closest to reality.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I’m confused about the 2.7 V6 part. Are you talking about the older 2.7 V6 that was based off of the 3.5 V6, both of which that were phased out in favor of the new Pentastar V6 engines?

    For clarity sake, the new Cherokee can be had with a 2.4 four cylinder engine and a 3.2 V6 Pentastar engine, which is based on the 3.6 Pentastar V6.

    There’s also a 3.0 Pentastar V6 for export markets (China) designed to meet tax and import tariff laws.

    I think I just made things more confusing.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Hmmm… While it’s fairly well incredible, it would explain why Chrysler is building vehicles that have, presumably, faulty transmissions.

    I mean, if you know the parts are bad, why keep installing them in additional vehicles?

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    The Cherokee can go off road to places where there are beetles, but it has a 9 speed transmission that has problems revolving. The Beetles had a song named Revolution 9, written by John Lennon. John Lennon led to the Beetles being sabotaged by the interests of a foreign party, Yoko Ono. Now Fiat, a foreign party, is allegedly sabotaging the Cherokee. Coincidence? I think not.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    “At least after the [engine that must not be named]. Unless that was part of the conspiracy too.”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Nonsense. The VEBA thing has more moving parts than a 9-speed transmission, but it’s far less predictable. This theory oversimplifies cause-and-effect.

    I really think Chrysler hoped the 9-speed bugs would be worked out prior to production, missed it, and is now trying to prevent a field issue. It’s not great, but it’s smarter and cleaner than business tampering.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Is it just me or are their tons of problems popping up at Fiat and Co. that can be fixed (reportedly) just by a “re-flash”?

    That would fit the conspiracy theory scenario.

    Since the USA government is no longer involved, I don’t need too worry about blackhawk helicopters in the middle of the night………… but Italy or was that Sicily the birth place of the Mafia????

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I would say its consistant with or manufacturers. Transmissions seem to be “reflashed” often as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Well, the TTAC review was of a working 9-speed with odd shifting problems, so it looks like bugs in the programming. That allows them to build the hardware and correct the software later. Jeep dealers may be frustrated waiting for product, but you can bet they’re relieved they don’t have to deal with after-sales reflashing. They and their customers may have misgivings about future adjustments needing to be made, and that could blunt the roll out impact even more.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        I can’t see any reason that the “dealer prep” which they attempt to charge me for couldn’t be used to apply the latest fixes, especially in situations where the car might have been sitting on the lot for some months prior to my purchasing it.

        • 0 avatar
          jpolicke

          Since the software problems seem to pertain to the engagement of the ‘dog clutches’ inside the transmission, the less these vehicles get driven before the update the better.

          As far as being asked to pay for dealer prep, I would ask the salesman what they spent the money the factory gave them for this purpose on. Then I would tell him to cross it out or sell the car to someone else.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    If I we’re in the market for this type of vehicle and these problems came up when doing my research I’d stay far away.

    To bolster public confidence Jeep may need to extend the power-train warranty on this model. As is, I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 ft pole.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    A 9 speed transmission is a wannabee CVT.
    5 speed should be more than adequate, if smooth. Who cares how many speeds it has? Maybe your yuppie friend with the M-B (on lease).

    • 0 avatar
      Bill Wade

      What is the purpose of such a unit? Wouldn’t the mechanical complexity seriously impact reliability?

      Are we starting to reverse the remarkable reliability gains of the last dozen years or so?

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        Any automatic transmission above 5 or 6 speeds is a screw job to the public in order to (1) have bragging rights for that last 1-2 mpg on the EPA cycle, and/or (2) is a desperate quest for corporate CAFE averages. It’s scary as hell what automakers are doing in the quest for 0.1 mpg, all at the reliability risk and financial expense of the customer, all to fool the EPA cycle; rarely is it worthwhile in the real world. Like stop-start; I’ll never own one.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Hmmmmmm, the 8-speed automatic in the LS460 has been working flawlessly since it was first introduced, and I have no doubt that the new 10-speed will also.

          I suspect that Fiatsler is having some serious problems with the new Cherokee and that’s why they’re parked instead of being in-transit.

          Disappointingly, Fiatsler is also having a few problems with their 2014 Grand Cherokee, that has resulted in a recall for a re-flash.

          Maybe Fiatsler is a victim of its own recent successes?

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I blame the automotive press too.

          • 0 avatar
            grzydj

            You can’t blame the press for this one. If it were up to the press this vehicle would have “touch points” that were so soft that the dashboard would double as a futon.

            Nothing else matters really, just imagined soft points.

        • 0 avatar
          Onus

          I wish i had stop-start. It would work then all too common occurrence that i have commuting to work where some idiot crashes and the traffic pretty much comes to a standstill. I live in Connecticut so there is a ton of cars on the highway. This is in the most densely populated part of the us after all. If my car shut off i would be quite happy.

          • 0 avatar
            schmitt trigger

            My son used to live in Connecticut and I fully understand and empathize with your comments. Every time we visited, there was a slow down caused by accidents, road construction or weather.

            But most other areas, start-stop strategy yields minimal MPG gains. I drove for 8 years a Civic Hybrid (which does not have full-EV crawl mode), so I know.
            On the other hand, I also drove a Prius, and its capability to crawl in full-EV mode is a real gas saver in crawl driving, much like it happens during a situation you describe.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Anything beyond a 5 or 6 speeds, is better accomplished with a Gear Vendors splitter. This effectively gives you 2 rear end ratios or a gear in between each. Great for towing on steep grades. Or leave it OFF when not. But 9 speeds is pointless in an SUV. And trans shops won’t open them up, but they’ll sell you a $5,000 dealer trans, plus installation.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    If you read the owner comments on other sites about the new 8-speed transmission in the Grand Cherokee, you will see lots of people complaining about significant problems with these boxes, including if memory serves, one owner who got the car bought back under a Lemon Law. The JGC seems to be a nice SUV in many, many respects, but it also seems like the launch of the newest version has gone fairly sour because of these trannie problems, which include hard downshifting as the driver slows to a stoplight and other behaviors which sound like a potential software problem.

    If the 9-speed in the new Cherokee is problematic, you could certainly understand why the company doesn’t want a repeat performance.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      My wife’s three sisters each bought a 2014 Grand Cherokee this year and the transmission shifting and noises aren’t the only problems they are experiencing.

      Hopefully the recall for re-flashing will cure many, if not all the problems.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    “FUBARed it by running simulations instead of real world testing until it was too late”
    I wonder, was Chrysler involved in the 404Care.gov website? Sounds like at least they shared some rose colored glasses with whomever developed that hot mess.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The word was that HHS contracted with programmers a couple weeks before the October 1 due date, thinking it’s just off-the-shelf software with a few tweaks. Politicians and their political appointees actually think like that – I worked for a state government for nearly 30 years, and found out early on how clueless they are. The programmers needed all the requirements up front, at least six months in advance, which should have been doable, since the deadline was set three years ago.

      Chrysler’s software problem can’t be blamed on politicians. As reported above, the ZF 8-speed in the Grand Cherokee has had shifting problems, and that’s a longitudinal setup. The current 9-speed is a transverse setup, something new for ZF, so maybe they’re not in the clear on the hardware.

      One thing that puzzled me was Derek’s TTAC review reported that off-road performance was fine, it was the odd shifting on pavement that was unsettling. Some options on the off-road tester weren’t on the pavement tester: could that be a problem – they spent so much time on making the off-road setup work, they paid too little heed to how the transmission performs on pavement? Or are those extra-cost, off-road options more integral to the overall performance?

  • avatar
    omegabob

    The 2014 RR Evoque will have a 9 speed ZF engine when it’s released. Is it the same one in the Cherokee? If so, is the Evoque being delayed as well?

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      It’s the same ZF design, but Chrysler is building the ZF-designed transmission themselves under license, and RR is probably buying them from ZF – or at any rate, not buying them via Chrysler.

      The calibration is not done by ZF, it’s done by the vehicle manufacturer. If there is some mechanical feature of the transmission that is hard to calibrate – and I can see dog-clutch engagement being a possibility – then it’s possible that both manufacturers will independently run into similar issues. But if it is just normal gear selection and shift timing and co-ordination with the engine controls, they might not have the same issues. In a nutshell, there’s no way to predict what you are asking about.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    If the goal is to tank the stock, wouldn’t releasing the defective cars be substantially more effective than this?

  • avatar
    wmba

    Poor old ZF. Here they design 8 and 9 speed automatics, and expand their factory in South Carolina to build well over a million of these two trannies, but run into Chrysler.

    Chrysler wants to save probably about $50 per transmission, so they tool up their own factory to build the same 8 and 9 speed boxes themselves under license, probably because they had a dispute with Getrag, another German supplier who dragged their feet building a transmission factory in the US seven years ago.

    ZF build a few of the 8 speeders in Germany for Audi and BMW and seem to have no particular problems there. But the Chrysler built 8 speed units seem to have a few hiccups, and the nine speed, well someone seems to have forgotten that the new 2.4l Tigershark, powering a blunt CUV object at 70 mph and 1500 rpm, not enough torque available to do so. Add a minor uphill slope and 3600 pound weight and only an optimist would expect that small engine to labor mightily away coughing its lungs out. So it downshifts to seventh, and the adaptive program fine tuning the tranny says, “Hey! That’s better.” And never shifts to eighth or ninth ever again.

    If this situation is in fact fixable by software updates, I’d be surprised. The engine needs to output more torque at low rpm, that’s the problem in a nutshell. Ninth is a 0.48 to one Overdrive, too tall.

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      They in theory could stick a low axle ratio in. Say 4:56 or more and make up for the low overdrive. They would end up with a wonderful ratio spread and nice super low close ratio gears.

      When i first looked at the ratios for this transmission i figured they would just stick in low ratio final drive. Evidently they didn’t choose too.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      I’m starting to suspect that the “software update fix” will involve just disabling ninth and maybe also eighth gears at all times.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    A modern day Chrysler product being an unreliable mistake with a miserable transmission is a given. If anything, conceding the fact this time is a way of staving off the reality of buyer resistance because this car makes the Caliber look like a 250 GTO. If they wanted to crush the company valuation, they should be drowning their dealers with unsalable eyesores, not pretending that they care about transmissions all of a sudden.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I wonder if the problem lies with the computer controlling the Brake Traction Control System.

    I do know of a Jeep issue very recently (last weekend) when all of the vehicles wheels locked up. The vehicle needed to be dragged with all wheels locked.

    Yes, it was a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Bought the very day this issue occurred. I do know its an 8 speed VM diesel.

    Apparently Nissan X Trails have had a similar problem with their computers as well.

    There might be some faulty controllers out there.

  • avatar
    PCP

    Interestingly, according to German news site heise.de (http://www.heise.de/autos/artikel/Chrysler-beisst-sich-die-Zaehne-aus-1980092.html), the ZF 9-speed automatic works flawlessly in the new, similarly configured Range Rover Evoque. Having watched ‘Inglorious Basterds’ is not enough to understand the article, though, and reading the Google translation might induce nervous breakdown.

    Apparently and mainly for packaging reasons, 8th and 9th gear are not braked conventionally, which in return asks for a very precisely adapted electronic steering.

    If heise.de is to be believed, the gearbox is built in Greenville, South Carolina.

    Still makes you wonder how Fiasler could f*** up so badly.

    Oh, ‘dog clutch’ is the name, thanks @Brian P. You might also look at http://www.zf.com/corporate/en/products/innovations/9hp_automatic_transmission/9hp_automatic_transmission.html (wonder why they show a picture of the Evoque and not of the Cherokee…)

  • avatar
    Morea

    “…For the demon shall bear a nine-geared transmission. Nine-geared! Not two or five or seven, but nine, which he will wield on all wretched sinners, sinners just like you, sir, there,…”

    (apologies to Monty Python)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You know what’s really funny about all this… or sad?

    Chrysler, for those too young to know, invented what had to be the finest automatic transmission ever made – the Torqueflite.

    From that we were given Ultradrive. ‘Nuff said.

    Chrysler also designed and built some of the greatest engines ever designed, like the 225 slant-six, the 318, 340 & 426 hemi V-8s.

    From that history they gave us the 2.7L.

    Of course that’s very old news and they have come far from 1998-2002, but there sure seems to be a disconnect, somewhere.

    I still wish them well and hope they get this snafu straightened out quickly, for it means their future.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Zackman
      Have a read of this link. I think you will find it quite interesting.

      It’s about our Chrysler 6 pot engines in Australia.

      In the end we had 302 hp 265 Hemi (not slant) that was as quick as your big block V8 muscles cars. Quite an achievement.

      The Valiant Charger (2 door muscle/pony car) was the quickest 6 cylinder until Porsche came along with their turbo 6. This is from the very early 70s.

      Great engines. I would love to own an original E49 Valiant Charger. It would be worth mega bucks.

      http://www.valiant.org/valiant/hemi-six.html

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I always wondered if Chrysler threw out the baby with the bath water with the 2.7. From what I recall is that it had a major sludging problem, but one that could be remedied by running pure synthetic oil. It was a “clean sheet of paper” engine which was light and powerful for its size (200 HP). I can imagine that with another decade’s general advancements in direct-injection, computerized valve timing and more, it could be a competitive engine today. I suppose the counter to this is that with the same technology 2.5 liter 4 cylinders are delivering about 200 HP with 1/3 fewer parts.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The question you’d have to ask is whats the powerband of the smaller V6 vs the I4? Sure that I4 might do 200HP but if its it 7500rpm then how useful is it?

  • avatar
    ajla

    I don’t understand why the 2.7L was ever born when the 3.3L and 3.8L were already around.

    Look at the maintenance requirements and power curves of both, then tell me which one would you rather have in your base Intrepid or Charger.

    And, the 4.0L probably should have replaced the 3.5L across the board in ’07.

  • avatar
    CoffeeLover

    I can assure you that even Chrysler is not dumb enough to be piling up 19,000+ vehicles that will require changing parts on a lift. They simply do not have the repair capacity to carry that out. So they must be betting on a re-flash as a solution. As others have noted, I doubt that will fix all of the issues with the engine/transmission mis-match, but it will at least render the units salable. Good thing it is this late in the year, as a hailstorm is unlikely.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’d love to hear a Chrysler insider on this because I believe the 3.3 was used in longitudinal (LH Gen 1) and transvers (minivans) configurations. Seems like the engine that should not be named was redundant from the start.

  • avatar
    canddmeyer

    Pay Toyota to use their 4, 5, and 6 speed transmissions and be done with it.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      Why would anyone buy one if it were the same as a Toyota? They need competitive advantages, reasons for people to buy their cars.

      My bicycle has 24 possible ratios, I don’t have too much trouble finding one that works.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I see your point about competitive advantages but would people really care if the transmission were sourced from Toyota? Heck I would think that might actually help sell it.


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