Chrysler Group LLC plans to invest a total of $374 million at four plants in Indiana to increase production of fuel-efficient transmissions. At an announcement in Kokomo, IN, Chrysler Group chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed that $212 million is targeted for the Kokomo Casting, Kokomo Transmission, and Indiana Transmission I plants; and $162 million will be invested to buy and expand the Tipton (Ind.) Transmission Plant, a former Getrag Transmission operation.

In total the investments will lead to an estimated 1,250 new jobs at the four sites, the company predicted.

Chrysler began its current round of investments at the three Kokomo plants more than two years ago. Kokomo Casting and Kokomo Transmission were the objects of a $300-million program announced in 2010 as it began production of a new eight-speed transmission, and the Indiana Transmission Plant I was set with an $843-million improvement plan later that year.

Chrysler said the new projects would raise total capital investments at the three locations above $1.6 billion.

The automaker did not detail the improvements at the aluminum foundry and the two transmission plants there, but its goal is to increase capacity for eight-speed transmissions that will be installed in the Dodge Dart compact and two new products: the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, and Jeep Cherokee midsize SUV.

Chrysler believes that its eight- and nine-speed transmissions have a dual appeal to North American auto buyers: first, fuel-economy, as the higher number of gears gives tighter control of engine performance; and second, performance, as the greater gear range improves acceleration.