DETROIT - Many consumers believe the Chrysler group builds vehicles with lackluster quality. So the company is working to improve its vehicles and public perception.
Internal data shows vehicle quality is improving, says Don Dees, vice president of quality for the Chrysler group. But reviews in Consumer Reports and ratings by J.D. Power and Associates will remain "flat" in 2003 because external measures lag product changes, he says.
In a company survey conducted last summer, consumers ranked the quality of Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles below the industry average, Dees says. Consumers pegged the Chrysler group below General Motors and on par with Ford Motor Co.
Among consumers intending to buy a new vehicle, 38 percent say the Chrysler group and Ford Motor build high-quality vehicles while 41 percent say that about GM. Sixty-seven percent cited Honda as a high-quality manufacturer and 64 percent cited Toyota.
"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," says Dees, who joined Chrysler from Toyota Motor Corp. 2½ years ago. "That's where we need to get to."
Dees credits Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche and COO Wolfgang Bernhard with mandating manufacturing changes that lead to more durable vehicles.
In addition, Mercedes-Benz is working with the Chrysler group to improve quality, Dees says. For example, 18 months ago Zetsche and Bernhard instituted 200,000-mile powertrain durability tests, Dees says. Chrysler had used a 100,000-mile test.
At the same time, 54 teams charged with making components more robust were created.
The company did not specify how much money it wants to save through the quality gains. Warranty fixes and recalls are costly. Chrysler's recalls increased in 2002, Dees says. "The goal has got to be zero recalls," he says.
Internal data show a 50 percent drop in dealership warranty work from the 1996 model year to the 2002 model year. Also, warranty costs in the 2002 model year dropped 21 percent compared to the prior year.
The launch of the Chrysler Pacifica this spring as a "premium quality" vehicle will help lift consumer perception, Dees says.
Chrysler also is advertising and heavily promoting its seven-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty to buttress its quality image.
The company also is simplifying manufacturing by working to use only 10 seat belt systems instead of 28.
Dees says Chrysler's goal is to be the best-quality producer in the market by 2007.