Chrysler Steps Up Quality for Dart Production

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April 6, 2012

Chrysler is focused on Dodge Dart quality ahead of U.S. sales starting in a couple of months. ?It?s the first proof-of-the-pudding vehicle of the Fiat-Chrysler relationship, and it has to be flawless,? Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Global Insight, told Reuters. ?This is the model that will be used to judge the potential of these two companies.?

Doug Betts, Chrysler and Fiat global head of quality, said the plant in Belvidere, IL, where the Dart will be produced will get $20 million for internal quality control facilities. This includes $12.5 million for a metrology lab Chrysler copied from Fiat, where workers measure fit and finish of parts coming into the plant, and conduct quality tests.

Betts was asked why Chrysler was highlighting a $20 million investment when car launches key to an automaker such as the Dart is to Chrysler often cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

?We?ve been on a financial diet for a long time, so it seemed rather far-fetched that we would spend $12.5 million on something like this,? Betts told Reuters. ?If you think about how quickly you can lose $12.5 million because your body shop is down because the hoods are a little crooked, then it?s worth a lot more than $12.5 million.?

Betts referred to a two-year period ending in 2009, when Chrysler was owned by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. At that time, spending that much for additional quality control would not have been approved, Betts said.

Chrysler officials, from chief executive Sergio Marchionne to line workers, have said Chrysler must convince consumers to give their products another try after vehicle quality dropped to the lowest in the U.S. market.

In a recent rating of 32 auto brands in the U.S. market by J.D. Power and Associates, Chrysler?s Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Chrysler brands took the bottom four spots. The survey was for cars on the road since 2009, when Chrysler was at the tail end of ownership by Cerberus.

?They?re finally turning things around as a company and are on the right path,? Bragman said. ?What they?re doing is mostly simple, no-brainer stuff, but it?s stuff Chrysler didn?t do before.?

Belvidere is the third Chrysler plant to have a metrology lab, after Jefferson North in Detroit, which makes the Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, and the plant in Brampton, Ontario, that makes the Dodge Charger and the Chrysler 300.

The Dart will begin production for the U.S. market in about a month. So far, about 300 pilot production Darts have been produced at the Belvidere plant, which also makes the Jeep Patriot and Compass.

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