One of the charges critics and reviewers have leveled at the Jeep Liberty over the years has been its archaic four-speed transmission and poor fuel economy.
It appears Chrysler Group's development team was listening, as a new ultra-efficient nine-speed gearbox looks to be coming to the next generation. Chrysler will discontinue production of the Liberty later this year and replace it with another vehicle to be built in Toledo.
Jerry Price, vice president of United Auto Workers Local 685 in Kokomo, Ind., where the transmissions will be built, said Tuesday the Liberty replacement is one of the vehicles being considered for the new front-wheel-drive, nine-speed automatic transmission.
Yes, front-wheel drive.
Company officials haven't released technical specifics of the upcoming vehicle. However, analysts expected the Fiat-based Liberty replacement -- Chrysler hasn't yet announced officially what the vehicle will be called -- would be front-wheel-drive. Chrysler all but confirmed that in its annual SEC filing, which indicated the vehicle would be based off the same front-wheel-drive, Fiat-derived platform that underpins the upcoming Dodge Dart.
Further, the SEC filing said the automaker plans to use nine-speed transmissions in many of its C-segment and D-segment front-wheel-drive vehicles, starting next year. The Liberty and its replacement slot into the D-segment.
Chrysler spokesman Jodi Tinson said Tuesday she could not comment on reports of a nine-speed transmission. The company does not typically talk about upcoming products.
The automaker has already begun equipping the full-size Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger with eight-speed transmissions. It plans to eventually use those in all its rear-wheel drive vehicles except heavy-duty versions of its Ram pickups.
In the SEC filing, Chrysler said the eight-speed transmission reduces fuel consumption by up to 12 percent when compared with its five-speed transmission. The nine-speed, Chrysler said, cuts fuel consumption by up to 11 percent over the company's current six-speed transmission.
The current rear-wheel-drive Liberty, with its 3.7-liter V6 and four-speed automatic, gets a combined 18 miles per gallon, according to the U.S. EPA testers. The four-wheel drive gets 17 mpg. The new, more car-like version is expected to return much better results.
Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, which represents the Toledo Assembly plant, told the Detroit-based Automotive News last week that, in addition to the nine-speed transmission, the next Liberty would get a smaller version of the much-acclaimed 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that currently powers several Chrysler Group vehicles, including the Toledo-built Wrangler.
Baumhower could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Though Jeep officials haven't said exactly how off-road-capable the next-generation model will be, they have promised it will retain what makes a Jeep a Jeep, including a go-anywhere reputation. ZF Friedrichshafen AG, the German company that developed the nine-speed transmission, said the gearbox is capable of all-wheel-drive applications.
The new vehicle is expected in showrooms next year.
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