Playing the numbers game isn’t always profitable, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)—among other automakers—has discovered in the months following its introduction of a nine-speed automatic transmission in cars like the Jeep Cherokee, Chrysler 200 and Fiat 500X.

According to, FCA has updated transmission control software in tens of thousands of vehicles to address complaints of harsh shifting and outright transmission failures, problems the automaker says have been traced to a metal snapring that can fail due to poorly-conceived control software installed at the factory.

It’s unfair to target FCA as the culprit here, however. Chrysler uses the nine-speed under license from ZF Friedrichshafen AG, a German company that specializes in transmissions and other machinery that makes vehicles go. Chrysler isn’t the only automaker facing criticism over the gearbox, which is also used in Acura’s TLX sedan and by Land Rover in the Range Rover Evoque.

I’ve driven two FCA models with the new nine-speed—a Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk—and both performed reasonably well aside from the odd awkward shift and a tendency to be slow to right-foot requests for passing power.

Perhaps the problem doesn’t lie entirely with the automakers: other questions to ask, we think, are these: how many gear ratios are really necessary in a light-duty vehicle? And did ZF sacrifice quality for the sake of a quick win in the ours-has-more-than-yours race?

By the way, that’s a race in which Ford seems set to take the next lead as it readies a 10-speed auto for its F-150 pickup line. When that transmission hits the market, you’ll find us right here with our comfy chair and a bowl of popcorn, waiting to see how it fares under the hoods of hundreds of thousands of pickup trucks.


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