Chrysler eight-speed gearbox to boost big sedans’ fuel economy

By: Bradford Wernle, Automotive News on 9/01/2011


Chrysler Group says its new eight-speed automatic transmission will be the first offered on domestically produced automobiles and will boost fuel economy and cut emissions of the company’s two full-sized, rear-drive sedans.

The transmission initially will be available on 2012 Chrysler 300s and Dodge Chargers powered by Chrysler’s 292-hp Pentastar V6 engine, the automaker said Thursday in a statement. The cars are being assembled and will start arriving in dealerships by Oct. 1, according to Chrysler spokesman Vince Muniga.

Chrysler will charge a $1,000 premium for cars with the new transmission. An entry-level Chrysler 300 with the eight-speed will be priced at $28,995 and the Dodge Charger SE will be priced at $27,320. Both prices include destination. Both cars will be available with a five-speed for $1,000 less.

Estimated highway fuel economy for the two cars will rise 15 percent, to 31 mpg, Chrysler said. Estimated city fuel economy will rise to 19 mpg, a 5-percent increase over 2011 versions of the cars, which came with a five-speed automatic.

Chrysler and Dodge also will offer eight-speed, all-wheel-drive versions of the 300 and the Charger. The cars will be offered with paddle shifters on the V6 and V8 models.

Chrysler is licensing the eight-speed transmission from German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG, which produces eight-speeds for luxury brands including Audi, Bentley, BMW, Land Rover Range Rover and Rolls-Royce. The transmission initially is being imported from ZF in Germany. Chrysler will begin making the eight-speed next year in Kokomo, Ind.

Chrysler is trying to leapfrog its domestic competition by offering an eight-speed, which is set up for rear-drive configurations with longitudinally mounted engines.

The company also is working to combine the eight-speed with the Pentastar V6 in the Ram 1500 full-sized pickup. Other candidates for the transmission include the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Chrysler also is working with ZF to develop a nine-speed automatic for front-drive vehicles with transverse-mounted engines. That gearbox should be available in 2013 and could be used in Chrysler’s minivans, mid-sized cars and crossovers such as the Dodge Journey.

Even though it has three more gears than the five-speed, the new transmission is only 6.6 pounds heavier.

The transmission, called the 845RE, has a technology called “adaptive shifting,” which takes into account a number of variables to achieve more efficient performance. Because there are more gears, the ratios are more closely spaced, meaning the shifts are less perceptible.

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