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.