FCA's quality woes are systemic
Take a good long look at today’s J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. Scroll down that long list of brands, domestic and foreign.
Keep going; way past Hyundai, well past Kia, below every brand owned by General Motors. Down. Down. Down.
Ah, there they are: Fiat Chrysler’s brands, bringing up the rear. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Four of FCA’s five brands hold four of the last five places in the annual study of problems experienced during the last 12 months, this time by owners of 2014 vehicles. Only the Chrysler brand escaped the bottom of the well this year, but even that brand finished just below the industry average.
And that industry average of 156 -- which J.D. Power says is sales weighted -- would have been lower if not for the Fiat brand, which finished at a staggering 298 problems per 100 vehicles.
FCA won’t comment on the results. But if my experience is indicative, Fiat got to that number honestly: My wife’s 2014 Fiat 500L has burned through no fewer than five headlights and four taillights in just the last 13 months. But I digress.
This latest poor quality showing needs to be put in perspective to truly be appreciated.
These 2014 vehicles under study came out five years after Fiat took over Chrysler during its bankruptcy. They were made three years after the automaker refinanced its government bailout loans. The vehicles were made when the company was profitable, when its sales were growing, when the future of what became FCA in 2014 looked very promising.
Someone might try to lay the blame for this at the feet of Doug Betts, who was the automaker’s head of quality prior to and through most of 2014. (And who, as of this week, now, coincidentally, runs J.D. Power’s automotive division.)
That would be nonsense, frankly. This poor showing isn’t Betts’ fault any more than his series of successors in FCA’s top quality job are responsible for more recent poor showings on quality surveys from Consumer Reports and other third-party measurements.
No, the fault here isn’t tied to any individual; rather, it’s systemic.
The fault lies in a company trying to do too much with too few resources; one that boasts of instantaneous decision-making but ignores that those decisions have consequences for suppliers, employees and partners. It lies with those who cut corners for expediency or profit, who choose the cheap over the good. And it lies with a company that prioritizes the growth of its North American profit margin and its share price to the detriment of almost every other consideration.
I’ve been covering FCA and its predecessors for a decade now. I have many friends who make their living from the vehicles and services it sells, up and down the corporate ladder and in its dealerships. There isn’t one of them who doesn’t want FCA to succeed, and they do all in their power to make that a reality every day.
But I’ll tell you this: They all, to a person, deserve better, and they have for a while now.
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