KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) -- Chrysler is investing millions in the Kokomo, Indiana, area as it shifts most of its vehicles to new transmissions that save fuel and better suit the driving habits of Americans.

The automaker will invest nearly $400 million at four plants in the Kokomo, Indiana, area, adding 1,250 jobs to what it says it the largest transmission factory complex in the world. The plants will make fuel-efficient eight- and nine-speed automatic transmissions.

Chrysler plans to use the new nine-speed transmission in key front-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Dodge Dart compact, which has lagged sales expectations.

The transmission also will go into a new Chrysler 200 midsize sedan early next year and the Jeep Cherokee midsize SUV, which will replace the aging Jeep Liberty in the summer.

It's a big deal for Kokomo -- and the economy of central Indiana -- considering that the complex was in danger of being shut down just a few years ago.

Kokomo will also add the Ram pickup, by far Chrysler's top-selling vehicle, to the line-up of cars that it makes eight-speed transmissions for. The others are the Jeep Grand Cherokee large SUV and the Chrysler 300 big sedan.

With the added jobs coming by early 2014, Chrysler will employ about 7,300 workers in the Kokomo area.

The additional workers will start at $15.28 per hour, about half the wage of longtime UAW workers.