Chrysler Group LLC has built more than 12,000 2014 Jeep Cherokees, but has not shipped a single one to dealers and is still working to resolve a problem with the programming of the crossover’s new nine-speed transmission.
“Chrysler Group is in the final stages of validating the updated powertrain calibrations,” said Gualberto Ranieri, vice president of communications for Chrysler, in an email to The Detroit News. “The company will not ship vehicles until we are fully satisfied the Cherokee meets customer expectations for performance, refinement and quality.”
More than three months after the vehicle went into production in Toledo, Chrysler is trying to get the transmission to shift smoothly in what CEO Sergio Marchionne has called a make-or-break vehicle for the Auburn Hills automaker, one that is key to capturing a fast-growing segment of the market.
Ranieri noted that the Cherokee is an all-new vehicle that, in addition to its all-new transmission, boasts two new powertrains and three advanced four-wheel-drive systems, all of which need to integrate flawlessly.
“Once the latest powertrain calibration is validated, the company will be able to quickly update the powertrain software on Cherokees already built and ship vehicles to dealerships around the country in quantity,” he said. ?
Chrysler has been using its factory workers to conduct extensive test drives and isolate the problem. Work on the Cherokee line was slowed last month, but never stopped — despite the absence of a fix for the problem. The line has since resumed to full production.
“The problem is the logic. Like most transmissions these days, it’s adaptive. It learns the way the customer drives and it makes the shift quality better for that type of driving,” said auto industry expert Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics LLP, who said he has heard similar reports from inside the company. “They want the transmission to be just smooth as silk, and that is apparently not the case at all.”
He believes Chrysler’s decision to hold the vehicles at the Toledo factory is the correct one.
“It’s better to delay it than to risk what happened with the (Ford) Escape,” Hall said, referring to a series of glitches that afflicted Ford Motor Co.’s new compact crossover in the months following its launch last year.
But customers are growing impatient.
Mark Orlowski, of Warren, has wanted a Cherokee since the new crossover debuted at the New York International Auto Show last March. He planned to buy one when they went on sale. Chrysler planned to begin building them in May, but a series of delays pushed the on-sale date back — first to June, then to September.
“I actually talked to a salesman yesterday. He still did not have a ship date for me,” Orlowski said Thursday, adding that he understands why Chrysler wants to hold the vehicle until the bugs are worked out. “It’s the right thing to do, but on the other hand, it makes me leery. But I can’t wait to get my hands on one and test-drive it.”
The delays also may make Chrysler miss its financial targets for the third quarter and, perhaps, the year.
“The second half (financial goal for 2013) is not doable without a proper launch of the Cherokee,” Marchionne warned in a July conference call with analysts and reporters.