DETROIT -- The quality gap between Chrysler Group's vehicles and those of Japanese automakers has become so small that it no longer should matter to consumers, Chrysler's quality chief says.
"We still benchmark Toyota," says Doug Betts, Chrysler's senior vice president of quality. "Toyota's very good at reliability. I believe that we have gotten close enough on reliability to Toyota that it shouldn't be a reason for somebody not to buy our cars."
Last week, Chrysler Group vehicles earned top honors in four of 21 categories in Strategic Vision's annual Total Quality Index survey. The Dodge Dart and Durango, Chrysler 200 convertible and Town & Country minivan scored highest among vehicles in their categories in a survey of 17,568 buyers of 2013 vehicles. Toyota topped one category and tied for first in another.
In 2008, before Chrysler was acquired by Fiat S.p.A., Chrysler won one of 19 categories in the survey.
Strategic Vision's survey tracks consumers' perceptions of quality. Key attributes measured are performance, driving characteristics and styling.
Another survey that measures perceptions of quality, the Initial Quality Study by J.D. Power and Associates, is due in June.
Generations of Chrysler executives have promised that quality and reliability would rival that of industry leader Toyota. But production, supplier and ownership turnover issues kept Chrysler at the back of the pack.
Betts said the cultural shift that began in the wake of Chrysler's 2009 emergence from bankruptcy has become ingrained in the company's 56,000 employees.
For instance, under the World Class Manufacturing system installed by Fiat,
Chrysler's line workers are expected to fix build-quality issues as they occur, even if it means a delay.
Betts said he is not ready to declare victory. But he said that day is getting closer.
"There are third-party metrics out there that say we are still short of where [Toyota] is, and I don't disagree with those," said Betts, a former quality executive with Toyota and Nissan.
"But is it a big enough difference that you would not buy the car over that" gap? Betts asked. "Or would you then turn to other things, like how the car feels, how it drives, how it sounds, how it looks?"