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Chrysler has high expectations for its new nine-speed automatic transmission that will debut later this year in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
So high, in fact, that the company has announced plans to invest nearly $20 million next year in its Perrysburg Township plant to build more of an important part that works with the transmission to put power to the ground.
The automaker said Friday it will invest $19.6 million into the Toledo Machining plant in the third quarter of 2014 to increase production capacity for torque converters that mate with the nine-speed transmission.
The investment announced Friday does not bring with it any jobs, although a union official said employment at the facility is growing.
It will be the second big investment in the Perrysburg Township plant related to the company’s new fuel-efficient transmissions.
In 2011, Chrysler committed to invest $72 million toward tooling for building torque converters for eight-speed and nine-speed transmissions.
Chrysler says that work will be finished in this year’s third quarter.
Toledo Machining is Chrysler’s only U.S. plant that builds torque converters, which serve a similar purpose in automatic transmissions to a clutch in a manual transmission.
Rich DeVore, president of United Auto Workers Local 1435, said it was a good day for the plant.
“It’s obviously something we’re happy with,” he said. “I’ll tell you, this front-wheel-drive nine-speed is a game-changer.”
Chrysler has an eight-speed for rear-wheel-drive vehicles, such as its pickups and the Chrysler 300 sedan.
The nine-speed will be used in front-wheel-drive vehicles and should give a significant boost in fuel economy over the company’s current six-speed.
It’s a key efficiency component for the Cherokee, which Chrysler says will get up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway.
Analysts say the transmission eventually will find its way into many Chrysler Group vehicles.
“It’s going to be a pretty important transmission for Chrysler overall,” said Kevin Riddell, a powertrain analyst at LMC Automotive in Detroit. “It’s going to go into most of their front-wheel-drive cars in North America. [We’re] talking some pretty significant volumes.”
Chrysler will build the transmissions at two factories in central Indiana. Company officials have said the transmission eventually will go into the Dodge Dart, but the current priority is the Cherokee.
“They’re going to gradually expand its use into many Chrysler products,” Mr. Riddell said. “The Cherokee just happens to be coming out. It’s brand-new; it’s a great place to debut the transmission.”
The 2014 Cherokee, which replaces the discontinued Jeep Liberty, is expected to be in dealerships sometime in the year’s third quarter.
Mr. DeVore said the Toledo Machining plant can build 800,000 torque converters annually. With next year’s additional investment, that will jump to 1.2 million.
Right now, the company is still in launch mode for that part, but expects to ramp up as the year goes on.
In addition to torque converters for Chrysler’s automatic transmissions, the plant builds steering columns for the Dodge Dart, and also will supply the steering column for the Cherokee, which will be assembled across town at the Toledo Assembly complex.
Chrysler says Toledo Machining employs 884 people, most of whom are hourly workers.
However, Mr. DeVore said the plant would add about 110 workers over the course of 2013 as it moves toward full-scale production of the nine-speed torque converters.
A Chrysler spokesman couldn’t confirm that Friday afternoon, saying no new jobs were announced with the previous investment.
To Mr. DeVore, the continued investment by Chrysler and other automakers in the area speaks highly of the work being done here.
“Here in northwest Ohio, we’ve got a great work force and obviously it shows,” he said.
“Everything they’re doing at [Toledo Assembly complex], over at General Motors Powertrain. It’s a good work force.”
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.