DETROIT (AP) -- Chrysler has begun shipping the long-awaited Jeep Cherokee small crossover SUV to dealerships.

Distribution of the Cherokees had been delayed while the company tinkered with the new nine-speed automatic transmissions to make them shift more smoothly.

Two company spokesmen confirmed that Chrysler began shipping Cherokees on Tuesday from a factory in Toledo, Ohio.

Dealers have been anxiously waiting for the Cherokee. It will compete against the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape in one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. auto market. The Cherokee replaces the old Jeep Liberty.

The SUVs were supposed to hit dealers sometime between July 1 and Sept. 30. But deliveries were held up while engineers worked out the transmission problems. The fix involved reprogramming the transmission's computer.

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