By on January 21, 2014

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Mircea Gradu, who had headed Chrysler’s transmission, powertrain and driveline engineering since 2011, left the company to pursue other interests, according to a company statement released last week. Part of Gradu’s responsibilities were the development and launch of the new Jeep Cherokee’s innovative all wheel drive system that can allow the rear axle to freewheel to save fuel. That launch was delayed when 25,000 assembled Cherokees were held back from dealers while engineers recalibrated the software that controls the powertrain and then tested the vehicles. The same basic drivetrain components are planned to be used in a number of other Chrysler group vehicles, starting with the all new 2015 Chrysler 200 introduced last week at the Detroit auto show.

Last spring Gradu had told the Automotive News that the short time allotted to develop the complicated powertrain for the ’14 Cherokee was a challenge. Engineers needed to calibrate the disconnecting rear end and all new nine speed automatic transmission with two new engines. “Two years development time for this level of novelty is a very interesting task for the engineering community,” Gradu told the AN.

The launch of the Cherokee was ultimately delayed almost two months as every vehicle was recalibrated and road tested, with dealers getting the SUVs in late October instead of August. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told analysts in the company’s third quarter conference call that the delay was a costly one for Chrysler.

The company has since stopped road testing every Cherokee and sales have been brisk, without any noticeable reports of consumer dissatisfaction.

Bob Lee, Chrysler’s head of engineering for engine, powertrain and electrified propulsion systems and a member of Chrysler’s Group Executive Council, will temporarily take on Gradu’s former role.

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17 Comments on “Powertrain Chief In Charge Of Cherokee Launch Leaves Chrysler...”


  • avatar

    I was worried the Cherokee was to ugly too sell, but amazingly, it’s hitting the streets quicker than the Dart. I see them everywhere- and they look great!

    Chrysler really has a winner thanks to the, great looks, awesome AWD, the BEST infotainment system on the market, great 8-speed and a great 9-speed.

    Bring on the 200!!!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Pushed out even though the Cherokee seems to be recovering from it’s start-up snags

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You really think he was pushed out? Maybe it was burn out. He came aboard in 2011 with a 2-year deadline and got it done just a little late. Why stay on when the next task would be to adapt the drive train to new applications, possibly with even shorter timelines? Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses before you end up pushing up daisies.

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        Here’s the full announcement:

        “January 15, 2014 , Auburn Hills, Mich. – Chrysler Group LLC today announced that Robert (Bob) E. Lee is appointed Interim Head of Transmission Powertrain and Driveline Engineering. The appointment is in addition to his current responsibilities as Head of Engine, Powertrain and Electrified Propulsion Systems Engineering. Lee also continues to serve as Powertrain Coordination on the Group Executive Council (GEC) for Fiat S.p.A.. He has held both roles since 2011.

        Mircea Gradu has left the Company to pursue other interests.”

        When they announce his interim successor, then parenthetically point out his departure “to pursue other interests”, it means he was axed. And suddenly – last Tuesday he was doing media interviews at NAIAS, Wednesday he was an unperson. With no “thank you”.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    I fully understand the teething problems of the new 8 and 9 speed power-trains. If they prove to be reliable over the long haul, they may be what keeps Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep in game for the next five years.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Again, I have to give Chrysler a big high-five for putting the brakes on the launch to get it right. The old Chrysler would not have done so, and it would have been a disaster for the model and for the brand. It would have cost them a lot MORE money had they not delayed the launch, but old-time short-term-thinking wouldn’t have cared; as those lost sales would have been in future quarters.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    I’ve been involved with launch delays and yard holds for recalibration and no one loses their job for it. This is either BS or he blatantly lied about something.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    Tres,

    I agree but SHOULDN’T people lose their jobs over these kinds of blunders? As a supplier I find it comforting that someone on the OEM side is getting beaten up for trying to get a program done too fast instead of the powertrain supplier who probably told Chrysler they needed another six months… right after they signed the contract for the business…

    I honestly think this was unrealastic expectations on both sides coupled with a lot of computer modelling that didn’t line up when the actual cars were built.

    I’m also the guy who thought GM’s board of directors needed to be fired along with Rick Wagoner in 2009… they bore equal responsibility for GM being in the hole for 20 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Should someone be fired for a delay? It depends – if they were forthright during the whole thing and did everything a responsible person should to a) fix the problem and b) coordinate with all of the affected parties, then that person shouldn’t be fired.

      On the other hand, if they lied and said everything was fine up until the point where the company had take its lumps, then, yes, fire their sorry ass. One of the big things management does is to communicate – and failing to communicate about a problem that cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars (nevermind the opportunity cost of not selling an updated product), then that’s a failure of management plain and simple.

      Since the vehicles were shown to the press (including TTAC) with lousy power train calibration (by 2014 standards), I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an effort to cover up problems in this guy’s area… Delays and bugs is one thing, but an “unknown” problem reported by the customer is something else entirely!

      Yeah, as much as I want to disagree with your hard-line stance, I probably would have fired this guy, too. Not about the delay, but about the failure to warn the rest of the company early and often about the delay before it became a big problem.

      That’s how my employer does it the most part, and it also agrees with the formal abd informal study I’ve made of Management.

  • avatar
    MoDo

    The system is probably fine for the long haul. He was probably under a MOUNTAIN of stress and pressure to get it sorted out as quick as possible, and after he did he got out of there.

    I don’t think he’d have any issue getting a new job either.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Yes, the problem was eventually fixed, but I’m sure it was at a massive expense to the company. Heads tend to roll over things like this.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Maybe it wasn’t anything evil at all. Perhaps he told Sergio; here’s your damn car, I’d like to go back to Europe please. No dark insider plots; maybe the guy just wanted to go home.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    I am stunned that someone is being held accountable for something.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Article doesn’t say whether his departure was on his account or on Chrysler’s, and it’s none of our business.

      Knowing how things can be in this business, the production schedule was probably dictated from above despite the many protestations from below, official or otherwise, that there was no way the schedule was going to happen as stated. It happens all the time.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Don’t have any insight here, but I did see the new Cherokee in dark blue today and it looks great. I think darker colors work better with this design.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Was he asked to leave?


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