DETROIT -- Chrysler Group has delayed introduction of a fuel-saving automatic transmission so it can make the shift patterns more palatable to U.S. drivers -- the latest sign that a key tool in automakers' plans to meet tougher fuel-economy rules needs some fine-tuning.
Two weeks ago, Ford Motor Co., which uses a similar dual-clutch transmission in its Fiesta and Focus, took a hit in Consumer Reports' annual reliability survey because many drivers complained about balky shifting.
Chrysler said it was delaying its dual-clutch transmission, which was to debut in the 2012 Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger sedans. The mid-sized sedans will stay with a standard automatic six-speed, Chrysler said. "We were concerned about the refinement and how the American customers might perceive the transmission," said Vince Muniga, a spokesman for Chrysler.
The Fiat dual-clutch transmission is used in Europe, and Muniga said Chrysler will look for future North American products in which to use it.
Substituting a dual-clutch automatic transmission for a conventional automatic can increase a vehicle's fuel economy by 10 percent.
Dual-clutch transmissions work like a mated pair of manual transmissions, each with its own clutch, and don't use a torque converter to deliver power to the axles. They are in use in other vehicles already sold in North America, such as those built by Volkswagen and Audi. The operation of a dual-clutch transmission is indistinguishable from that of a conventional automatic at highway speeds. But some reviews have said dual-clutch transmissions can feel slow to respond at lower speeds or in city driving, and can even give the impression that the vehicle is going to stall.
Before its bankruptcy in 2009, Chrysler had entered into an ill-fated joint venture with Getrag Corp. to develop dual-clutch technology, building what was to have been a $530 million factory in Indiana to produce the transmissions. But the effort was scrapped, in part because of Chrysler's desperate financial condition.
Muniga said Chrysler's current joint venture with ZF Friedrichshafen to produce a nine-speed automatic transmission for front-wheel-drive vehicles is not affected by its decision to delay the introduction of dual-clutch technology. Marchionne has said the ZF 9-speed will be used in front-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger. c