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Best in Class By 2007

Don Dees explains how Chrysler plans to top its segment in less than five years.

Chrysler Group Vice President of Quality, Donald Dees says the company’s Chrysler Development System will help it get to zero defects.

Donald W. Dees, vice president, quality, for the Chrysler Group just wants to get people in Chrysler cars.

It’s then that they’ll see how far Chrysler quality has come. The company, he says, suffers from quality image problems of the past which still continue to haunt it today.

“Chrysler Group vehicles that are built today are much, much, much better quality than just a year or two years ago,” Dees says. “We’ve cut our warranty costs in half since the 1999 model year. We’ve improved our warranty this year by 13 percent and last year by 21 percent. We are moving extremely fast to improve our quality but our image is based on the last 20 years of cars not on the last two or three years of cars.”

Headline-making J.D. Power survey results help. Chrysler has had improvements on the survey for 20 years and plans to continue getting better.

Next on the goal list is to be the best producer of quality vehicles in its segment of the market by 2007. Dees recently spoke with Automotive Industries about J.D. Power results, its quality plan, how the company is going to get there and stay there.

Q. Were you happy with the J.D. Power quality survey results?
A. We were happy that we made an improvement when the industry was flat. We’re also happy our launches of new vehicles continue in a positive direction which really bucks the industry trend. Most people, when they launch a vehicle, go backwards. We’re launching new vehicles going in the right direction. The thing that we’re a little disappointed with were the fuel price complaints, which hurt the entire industry including the Chrysler Group. That one question about fuel consumption hurt everyone. We would have had a much bigger improvement if that one question hadn’t hit us and others.

Q. Why the improvement?
We’re improving very quickly on our heavy duty truck which we launched. A lot of the items that are warranty type items we saw a big improvement on. Powertrain was another issue that we saw a big gain on.

Q. How did you make these improvements?
We are getting more and more benefit out of our quality gate process and our Chrysler Development System. We’re seeing improvements in our powertrains with new designs, new production facilities and new testing. Our powertrain quality is improving very, very rapidly. We doubled our durability testing from 100,000 to 200,000 miles. Many, many, many things that we have been doing are starting to see the fruits of those labors. I think 19 years in a row since J.D. Power started up, Chrysler Group has improved. So, we’re continuing that trend but moving at a much faster rate now.

Q. J.D. Power has said you are better at launching than Toyota or GM. How are you doing it?
It’s really the focus we have on quality. We have a few things that we do differently then our competition. We have a process that we call a Fast Feedback where we take some early build vehicles and put them on the road in our company fleet, which is driven by Chrysler Group employees. Right now with the Pacifica we have 300 Fast Feedback vehicles that we put on the road earlier this year, three months ahead of launch and we quickly find out if there are any problems. We find those out early and take counter measures before we sell the first cars to the customers. So we have a lot of things that we are doing to get these really good launches.

Chrysler was able to find and fix quality problmes on the Pacifica well before it went on sale.
Q. Did you find any problems with the Pacifica that you were able to solve?
We had issues that we found with the Fast Feedback fleet and we quickly found a cause and took countermeasures. When we launched the vehicle we had zero problems at the customer launch. It’s the whole philosophy of having great launches and having support to make sure we have good launches and then a process to support that philosophy.

Q. Is it a marketing issue now?
No. 1 we’ve got to continue to improve our quality and get down to zero defects. Our goal really is by 2007 model year to be the best producer of quality vehicles in the market in our segment. That’s our goal.
Meanwhile we have to do things to communicate how much better our quality is today than 10, 20 years ago. The 7-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty is an example of that. We’re walking like we talk by backing up powertrain. We need to get people in our cars to experience this much better quality and that’s really where we need to improve.

Q. What will it take to get you to zero defects?
That’s obviously our long term objective. I think the things that we’re doing now — the strategies, the tactics, the action plans — will get us there. They will get us to our ’07 goal of being the best and our longterm goal of zero. Obviously, we just have to stick to the plan and keep improving as fast as we can. We’ve got a good strategy. We’ve got a good action plan. We’ve got full support from the leaders of the company and buy in from the entire company from top to bottom. When you’ve got support and you’ve got a plan it’s going to happen.

Q. How important are the initial launches?
I think it is important to all of us (in the industry) to have good launches of new vehicles. Our customers need to have the confidence that when they buy a new vehicle right out of the gate they are going to have the same quality as they would a year or two later. They need to have that confidence. Years ago people said don’t buy a vehicle out of the gate. We need to change that perception in the marketplace. We’re doing that at the Chrysler Group. We’re having great launches and they’re getting better. PT Cruiser was a great launch, Liberty was a great launch. Ram Light Duty, Ram Heavy Duty were great launches. Pacifica so far is a good launch. Crossfire’s coming on board in July and that looks like it is going to be a good launch.

Q. Is there a concern that continual cost cutting could also cut quality?
We’ve been working for two and a half years now on our Material Cost Management (MCM) with our suppliers and that has been very successful. It has saved us billions of dollars in material costs and at the same time we’ve made a 21 percent and then a 13 percent improvement in warranty. So as we’ve done the MCM initiative we’ve also improved the quality at the same time. Usually cost and quality go hand and hand. I look at it as a coin. Cost is on one side, quality is on the other side of the coin. They’re two sides of the same coin so you can do both. That’s what we’ve done in the last three years at the Chrysler Group.

Q. Once you get to the zero defect point how do you stay there?
You just have to follow the Chrysler development system. Basically you have to have a good process that can be followed whether it’s the development system of the vehicle, whether it’s how you test the vehicle at the proving grounds, whether it’s how you validate suppliers or whether it’s how you manufacture. You need to have good stable, processes that you follow. The way to make that happen is to have some kind of audit system to make sure everyone is following the best common process. The first goal is to have zero failures. Zero things break, zero things gone wrong. That’s got to be the first goal. The other side of quality that you need to address as well is meeting the demand of the customer. What does the customer want in a vehicle? I call it the things gone right side of quality. Then there’s another piece of quality is the safety side. Crash tests and things like that. You need to work on those and improve and improve there. Last but not least there is technology. You need to bring in more and more advanced technology. All four of those quality drives have to happen. You have to do due diligence on all four of them. Mercedes is really helping us on technology. There’s unbelievable technology at Mercedes. Unbelievable safety at Mercedes and obviously the other two you have to address as well.

Q. What would you like next year’s JD Power survey to say?
I think we will make big improvements next year. I think you’re going to see Chrysler Group improve for the 20th year in a row. I think our improvement will be talked about next year.

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