DETROIT -- Chrysler said last week that it was making progress on a repair for the powertrain software that has delayed the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, but still couldn't say when any of the SUVs could be shipped to dealers.
The launch is at least six weeks late, and at least 12,000 vehicles sit in storage lots awaiting repairs.
In a promising sign, the automaker called back to work a second shift, starting today, of workers in Toledo to assemble the vehicle. Those 500 workers were laid off Sept. 23.
The issue is the complexity of the Cherokee's powertrain and how it interacts with its innovative disconnecting drivetrain.
"As our senior management has stated many times before, we will only introduce a vehicle to consumers when we are completely satisfied," the company said in a statement last week.
Production was scheduled to begin May 23, but the start was delayed until June 24. On June 30, Jeep brand head Mike Manley said he expected Cherokees could get to showrooms as early as mid-August, but left himself room to say that they would begin affecting the company sales results significantly in the third quarter, which ends today, Sept. 30.
Earlier in September, Manley said "a true commercial launch" of Cherokee marketing would begin by early October.
The SUV has two engines, a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder and a 3.2-liter V-6, plus a nine-speed automatic transmission and a disconnecting driveshaft and differential. All of these parts are new to Chrysler and have not been combined before on one vehicle.
Jeep engineers have had to develop operating software -- which govern such complex operations as shifting patterns, when to automatically disconnect or reconnect the rear driveshaft for added traction -- for each of the Cherokee's powertrain configurations.
"This is the world's first application of a highly technical nine-speed transmission; on top of that, it is being mated to two new engines and three complex 4x4 systems," the company's statement said.
Manley said that initial dealer orders were encouraging, and that consumer interest in the Cherokee was "actually higher than it was for Grand Cherokee at this stage."
But dealers said that while online interest in the Cherokee might be brisk, it hasn't materialized into a crush of prospects at the door waiting for Cherokees to arrive.
"We're not getting inundated. I wish we were," said Don Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls, which has a pair of Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram stores in Maine.
"We're not advertising it yet, and Chrysler's not advertising it yet. But there's no big push."