Shifting gears – Chrysler’s Mircea Gradu is out

Mircea Gradu was appointed Vice President and Head of Transmission Powertrain and Driveline Engineering, Chrysler Group LLC on July 1, 2011. Gradu was responsible for the design, development and release of all Transmission and Driveline systems for Chrysler Group LLC.

In addition to that role, Mircea Gradu continued as Head of Virtual Tools Analysis and was responsible for identifying, enhancing and deploying virtual engineering capability. Additionally, he was a member of the Product Committee, reporting to Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive Officer, Chrysler Group LLC.

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.

When it was announced that Mircea Gradu (MER-cha Gra-DOO) was summarily let go (which means let go without explanation, but in these days and times they refer to it as “to pursue other interests” – like what, file for unemployment?) the announcement didn’t acknowledge the other jobs Gradu held, only the transmission and powertrain job.

That alone tells you how important the powertrain, transmission and driveline job was. It also might give a hint as to why Gradu was let go. Since 2009, Chrysler Group has invested $2.6B in powertrain development; over 40 percent of the total manufacturing budget.
Some of the launches that were included in that Investment of transmissions were:
8 speed
9 speed
6 speed AT
6 speed AT (HD truck)
6 speed MT
plus 15 engines.

It is no coincidence that Chrysler offers the 8-speed automatic in four different vehicle segments, and in each, it contributes to a best-in-class fuel-economy standard:
1. Best-in-class fuel highway economy and driving range (30 mpg/730+ miles) in Jeep Grand Cherokee
2. Best-in-class highway fuel economy (25 mpg) in Ram 1500
3. Best-in-class highway fuel economy (31 mpg) and combined fuel economy (23 mpg RWD/21 AWD) in Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300
4. Best-in-class driving range (600+ miles) in Dodge Durango

But questions remain:

Will this change Chrysler’s relationship with ZF and the way, or place, Chrysler’s transmissions are built?
Eric Mayne, Media Relations Mgr.-Engineering, Powertrain, Safety, Regulation, Chrysler Group LLC, could only confirm that “We (Chrysler) are invested in and committed to 8- and 9-speed transmissions.”

So is ZF. When I reached out to ZF for comment they were surprised because they enjoyed working with Gradu, but “our agreement is bigger than one person. The future of this operation is very important to both companies.” ZF said that no one has talked to Chrysler, but given the nature of the week (it is the North American International Automobile Show – NAIAS) that is not unusual.

Does the change in leadership signal a change in strategy?
“No. The benefit’s of this technology are clear. For example, every model that features our 8-speed automatic transmission owns at least one best-in-class fuel-economy standard. We are invested in and committed to 8- and 9-speed transmissions.”

What is most impressive is the lengths Chrysler, and Gradu, had to go to to get to that point. Chrysler and ZF, THE transmission company, have a collaboration that is rather unprecedented in the industry. Gradu explains it in this video.

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.