BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Chrysler group will catch perennial quality leader Toyota by 2007, says Tom LaSorda, the automaker's manufacturing chief.
Chrysler has vowed big quality improvements before. In 1997, former Chrysler executive Dennis Pawley set the goal of surpassing Toyota as the company overhauled its manufacturing system.
But the latest J.D. Power and Associates quality study showed a dramatic narrowing of the gap between Toyota and rest of the industry. Corporate-wide quality scores for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and American Honda Motor Co. fell in this year's survey, while DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co. gained, and General Motors fell slightly. (See story, Page 27.)
There was a 24-problems-per-100 difference this year between the scores of Toyota and DaimlerChrysler. Last year, that gap was 36 problems per 100.
"We're going to catch Toyota. They can be caught," LaSorda, executive vice president of manufacturing, declared during the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference here last week.
Toyota spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell said: "Any quality gains are good for the customer. Toyota's quality level is high. Whether they can close the gap is the challenge."
In March, the Chrysler group spelled out ways it is trying to improve quality. For example, the company has started 200,000-mile powertrain tests, up from 100,000 miles. And as part of an effort to simplify manufacturing, Chrysler wants to cut the number of seat-belt systems in its vehicles from 28 to 10.