In his recent interview on 60 Minutes, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne mentioned only two future products: a new Maserati SUV (the China-oriented Kubang) that will be built in Detroit, and the upcoming Dodge Dart compact sedan, which is beginning to roll off a Chrysler assembly line in Belvedere, Ill. One of his main points to CBS correspondent Steve Kroft was that Dart will be "mechanically" sound.
Chrysler needs that to be the case. Amid all of the success and progress that the company has enjoyed since getting up off the mat in 2009 — big sales gains, positive Super Bowl buzz for its Clint Eastwood "Halftime in America" commercial, a raft of generally well received new products (including a key green car nod for the Chrysler 300) — the one bugaboo that the company hasn't been able to get past is its reputation for poor quality.
Even though it has improved markedly over the last several years, and under a succession of regimes, the company simply hasn't been able to keep pace with rising quality levels across the rest of the industry. Now, Chrysler executives are determined to banish the quality bogeyman once and for all.
"One of the first things Sergio told the rest of the management team was 'Betts can shut the whole company down' [in the event of a quailty problem] and nobody is going to overrule him, not even me," said Doug Betts to the Wall Street Journal. As Chrysler's chief of quality and a member of the top board of management of the combined Fiat-Chrysler global enterprise, those are fighting words.
Chrysler hopes to demonstrate the new Dart as an examplar of its increasingly aggressive approach to improving quality, and its launch lately has preoccupied the time of Betts and other senior executives. They also have been taking a number of other major steps including setting up "metrology centers" at each assembly plant for precise, painsteaking measurement of new vehicles for any quality concerns.
Of course, Chrysler won't overcome its mottled quality history overnight. It already has extensively improved the look, feel and function of the interiors in its new models, helping Chrysler notch the second-biggest quality improvement among any automaker in Consumer Reports' recently released annual quality report card.
But Chrysler remained in last place in JDP's latest ranking, and its four brands also were mired at the bottom of J.D. Power's closely watched vehicle-dependability index.
"Quality 'problems' are only removed when society at large believes they're removed," Betts told brandchannel last year about the consumer perception challenge. "And it takes a long time for people to have the experiences and receive the proof that they need."