Chrysler vehicles have long been bottom dwellers in Consumer Reports' quality and reliability surveys.
But there are signs that Detroit's smallest automaker is improving its performance, said David Champion, senior director of the magazine's automotive test center.
Chrysler brought a number of its upcoming models to the Consumer Reports test track recently. The testers were impressed by what they saw, although most of the vehicles were prototypes, Champion said.
"It seems they really do have a different mind-set to build a quality vehicle," he said last week at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit.
Since emerging from bankruptcy under Fiat management, Chrysler has been working to improve its vehicles, concentrating on areas often criticized by Consumer Reports in the past: cheap, plastic interiors; unrefined engines, transmissions and suspensions; and dowdy styling. The results will appear in many of the company's 2011 models, due in dealerships late this year or early next year.
Last week, Chrysler issued a statement quoting Doug Betts, Chrysler senior vice president of quality:
"We've improved vehicle reliability more than 50 percent in the past 2 1/2 years, but most of our gains are not reflected in Consumer Reports' survey [because of the small sample sizes of tested vehicles]. We've done a lot of behind-the-scenes work to address quality and customer satisfaction."
But Chrysler has much work to do, Champion said.
"If the same attention to detail they've put on the [Jeep] Grand Cherokee carries across to other models, they'll be competitive," he said.
"But if they carry on building the same crap they have been, they have no future."