Top powertrain exec leaves Chrysler

Gradu oversaw launch of Jeep Cherokee's innovative drive system

Gradu: Cherokee was a challenge.

DETROIT -- Chrysler Group has parted ways with the executive responsible for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee's innovative but initially troubled drive system.

Last year's launch was delayed last fall when Chrysler held back more than 25,000 assembled Cherokees so engineers could recalibrate the powertrain software.

Mircea Gradu, 50, who had been of head of transmission, powertrain and driveline engineering since 2011, left the company to pursue other interests, Chrysler said last week.

Chrysler appointed Bob Lee, 57, to assume Gradu's responsibilities on an interim basis. Lee also is Chrysler's head of engineering for engine, powertrain and electrified propulsion systems and is on Chrysler's 20-member Group Executive Council.

Gradu, a native of Bucharest, Romania, had taken on increasing responsibilities with Chrys-ler since joining the company in 2007 from Timken Co., which supplies bearings and other steel products to the automotive industry.

Gradu told Automotive News last spring that one of his greatest challenges had been the short development time allotted for the complex powertrain of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The SUV has a new nine-speed transmission, two new engine variants, and a new disconnecting rear driveshaft and differential for all-wheel-drive models.

"Two years development time for this level of novelty is a very interesting task for the engineering community," Gradu said at the time.

Efforts to reach Gradu were not successful.

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 on all-wheel-drive models.

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.

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.

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

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