Doug Betts has spearheaded Chrysler Group's effort to improve product quality since he joined the company from Nissan North America in 2007. Betts, 49, who earlier worked at units of Toyota Motor Corp. and Michelin Group, says Chrysler quality is now close to that of Toyota.
This month, Chrysler Group vehicles earned top honors in four of 21 categories in Strategic Vision's annual Total Quality Index survey. Toyota topped one category and tied for first in another.
Betts spoke with Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette.
Q: Are you attacking culture or individual problems to improve Chrysler product quality?
A: We needed a culture change five years ago, and certainly as Mr. Marchionne says, "It's not a thing. It's the only thing." That's really true, especially for something like quality. I got a big boost when Sergio came here because the culture he wants to instill is really the right kind of culture to be able to design, build and deliver high-quality vehicles. It's a meritocracy. It's about accountability for the results, not for the short term but in the long term. It's been fun. It's hard, but it has been rewarding.
Are you making progress?
We're still working. Where we were four or five years ago was that, clearly the third parties said that we were in last place. The reality was that we were not only in last place, but that we were a very distant last place. With as much improvement as we've made -- roughly 60 percent improvement in warranty rates -- that just helped us to catch up and get in the mix with other companies.
The interesting thing about quality right now is that if you look at the third parties and you really look at the numbers that are out there and think about what they mean -- the differences in quality in terms of reliability -- everybody is really very close.
Has the way Chrysler deals with consumers changed?
It's a night-and-day difference, and I'll credit Mr. Marchionne with setting the example. He follows a very simple rule: Treat people the way that you would want to be treated. Whenever anything comes up, he doesn't ask how much it costs or anything.
In the first days he was here, we had some very uncomfortable meetings where we were talking about quality and customer service, and he said, "Bring a phone in here. I want to call our customer service line and see how that works out." He calls, he gets a recording or a person that really isn't the right person, and he looks at me and at Pietro [Gorlier, head of Mopar parts and service] and these things change.
There's never a question. It's not like we're trying to find the right-cost solution. We sold these people a very expensive object, and we should take care of them.
In a recent supplier survey, Chrysler got knocked for having more last-minute engineering changes than other automakers had. Why?
Recognizing where we were -- a distant last place -- we've had more work to get done, where some other companies may be taking a car that's performed well in the market, where they're going to carry forward the same powertrain, the same electrical architecture, the same platform and they're just going to make it look different. We could do that with one arm tied behind our back and sleeping halfway through the year. Compared to what we used to be able to do, we can do that great.
Unfortunately, we need new powertrains, transmissions, engines. We need new electrical systems. We need new radios. We need a lot of things because we had atrophied, and so we're just doing more work. We are having last-minute changes because there's more chance of realizing we need to do this instead of that.
Are you seeing a greater degree of employee buy-in?
The World Class Manufacturing system that Fiat brought in, if you wanted to summarize it in a few words, is about engaging everybody. Building a car is a complicated thing and there are problems that come up. You can try to deal with those problems with 40 or 50 engineers that are at the plant, or you can try to deal with those problems with 2,500 or 3,000 people that work at the plant. They've all got brains; they can all solve problems if we give them the information, the tools and the time.
How many of your quality issues are supplier-based?
A supplier will always be a big part of it because they are a big part of the content of the car. I never sort quality issues that way. I always expect that it will be 70 to 80 percent, just because they make 70 to 80 percent of the characteristics of a car. My first job in the auto business was with a supplier, so I've never been one of those guys that says, "I can't understand why those guys can't do better than they do." I used to work there, and it's not easy.
Past Chrysler executives said that Chrysler would reach Toyota quality within 10 years. Are you there?
We still benchmark Toyota. 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. There are third-party metrics out there that say we're still short of where they are, and I don't disagree with those. But is it a big enough difference that you would not buy the car over that? Or would you then turn to other things that might also be important: how the car feels, how it drives, how it sounds, how it looks? I think we have surpassed many of our competitors in areas like that, to give people a different reason to want to buy the car. And in my view, it's all a part of the quality of the car.