Chrysler powertrain chief Gradu departs

Exec had been in charge of troubled Cherokee drivetrain

Mircea Gradu's departure was sudden. He was conducting media interviews as late as Tuesday at the Detroit auto show.

DETROIT -- The executive whose responsibility it was to ensure the 2014 Jeep Cherokee's innovative drive system worked properly has left Chrysler Group to pursue other interests.

Mircea Gradu, 50, who has been with Chrysler since 2007 and head of transmission, powertrain and driveline engineering, left the company Wednesday. Details of his departure were not disclosed in a company statement.

Chrysler appointed Bob Lee, 57, to assume Gradu's responsibilities on an interim basis.

Lee also is Chrysler's head of engine, powertrain and electrified propulsion systems engineering and is on Chrysler's 20-member Group Executive Council.

Gradu's departure was sudden. He was conducting media interviews as late as Tuesday at the Detroit auto show media preview.

Gradu, a native of Bucharest, Romania, has held increasing responsibilities with Chrysler since joining the company in 2007 from the Timken Co., a bearings and steel supplier to the automotive industry.

Chrysler delayed the launch of the Cherokee nearly two months until late in October to properly calibrate the software that operates its 9-speed automatic transmission and its disconnecting rear driveshaft and differential.

Gradu's teams were responsible for the way the system worked.

Chrysler plans to use an all-wheel-drive system similar to that used in versions of the Cherokee in other future vehicles, including versions of the upcoming 2015 Chrysler 200.

The delay was costly for Chrysler, CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a third-quarter conference call with analysts. Chrysler initially tested every Cherokee that came off the line to make sure that its drivetrain was operating as intended. It has since stopped test-driving each vehicle.

A Chrysler spokesman declined to comment.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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