DETROIT -- A senior executive at the Chrysler group said Thursday that he wants to build vehicles like Sony TVs.
Don Dees, Chrysler's head of corporate quality, was not suggesting the company has set it sights on some radical new product line. But he hopes that someday people will see Chrysler's cars and trucks as every bit as dependable as the TVs produced by Japan's Sony Corp.
That's a tall order for a company that saw an embarrassing increase in recalls due to vehicle safety defects in the United States last year. But Dees, who joined Chrysler 2-1/2 years ago from Toyota Motor Corp., said his goal is to make the automaker the Sony of the car business.
"I want to buy a Sony TV because I know it's never going to break in 20 years, right? That's what we want people to think about Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep," Dees said.
"Zero recalls -- that's where we've got to get to," he added.
Speaking to reporters during a briefing at Chrysler's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., Dees said the company was probably no better than General Motors and Ford Motor Co. in terms of quality.
A consumer survey Chrysler conducted last summer even showed most people think GM builds better vehicles, he said.
He pointed to a 50 percent decline in Chrysler's dealer warranty work in the past six years as evidence its quality was improving, however. And he said a 21 percent drop in Chrysler's warranty costs between the 2001 and 2002 model years was a sign of more good things to come.
"Our goal short-term is to pull away from GM and Ford in actual product quality and perception and longer-term catch up with the Toyotas, Hondas, and Mercedes of the world. That's where we need to get to," Dees said.
All automakers like to brag about quality improvements, which can bolster per-vehicle profit margins and overall sales in a fiercely competitive industry.
But Dees said Chrysler had an ironclad plan to lock in improvements through investment in new powertrain technology and the selection of tough and durable components by teams set up 18 months ago to study each of the more than 1,000 parts that go into new vehicles.
By 2007, he said it was Chrysler's goal "to be the best quality producer in our market."
It remains to be seen if Chrysler and Dees will make good on that promise. He acknowledged, however, that Chrysler may still be perceived, in surveys like the one it conducted last summer, as a low-quality manufacturer for years to come.
Dees said: "Our product quality has been improving quickly, but the image is going to lag that. It's going to lag that for years."