By on October 30, 2014

Fiat-500X-2-550x364

It’s pretty amazing how the world spins and moves forward yet people refuse to budge. Fiat consistently scores in or near the top of Euro reliability rankings, besting most if not all of the mainstream Euro makers as well as other competitors from other continents who, somehow, are given a pass in this area. It does likewise in South America. In terms of “fix-ability” it is among the most appreciated, being its corporate policy to share information with mechanics quite openly about its cars’ needs and selling every small bit as a separate part so that people need only change what needs changing, saving its customers money .

I go to the factory in Betim, Brazil, every so often and the place is always filled with Japanese consultants on the factory floor, not just in conference rooms and secluded offices, teaching and implementing more and more quality control techniques. Brazilian engineers I know personally go north and tell me of all the changes they are seeing at Chrysler Group, with leaner, more exact engineering being implemented, inefficiencies controlled, paint shops and water handling completely overhauled.

The place is a brute, the second largest in capacity in the world, being beaten only by a Russian AvtoVAZ unit. Receiving investments of almost 6 billion reais in improvements, it’s being expanded from a capacity of 800,000 cars a year to 950,000. While the expansion and renovation is happening, it will pump out over 700 thousand cars this year in a bewildering, complex environment. A total of 16 different models are produced there, from passenger cars to light commercial vehicles. The closest factory in terms of complexity in Brazil is a GM unit in São Caetano do Sul making a total of 5 models.

It is also a research and development facility, with the capacity to design cars from the ground up. When I go to that specific place, I see future Fiat products, engines and systems, Chryslers of all stripes and also competitors’ cars being stripped down and rebuilt.  The R&D facility received a portion of that investment money and is putting it to good use. Suppliers are often there, trying to fulfill Fiat’s ever-increasing demands on quality, all the while complaining that it’s impossible within the given budgets.

I also recognize the problems. Some of them are cultural others structural. I know the pressure is there to push the product out when sales are high, leading people to overlook some things they know should be addressed before sticking the quality control stickers on. It is not an easy place to work in if you are a supplier as Fiat is a notorious penny-pincher and will and does sit on suppliers demanding more from them at ever lower prices.

There also seems to be a problem with follow through and repetition. Italian and Brazilian culture mesh well in this regard. Improvisation does and can happen and I have seen condemned bits and pieces being stripped from cars while the same parts are taken from half-built cars. It is easy to see the havoc created upstream in the production, while at the same time the possibility for errors is ripe. Some of the initially condemned pieces are sometimes reworked, deemed good, and installed in other cars.

Brazilian workers and engineers are also notorious for not adhering strictly to a given procedure. While a Japanese worker has the reputation of repeating the same procedure for 40 years without question, workers and professionals in Brazil will often improvise, turning step 2 and 4 into just one, or doing what was supposed to be step 6 before step 5 and so on.

Meanwhile, in North America, perhaps surprisingly, Italian and American culture and business practices have also congealed nicely and even Wall Street likes what it sees. There are no rampant manifestations of dissatisfaction and major suits have had their fears of German-style merger of (un)equals allayed, being that American voices are heard and American butts are promoted and given positions of power. Further down in the corporate hierarchy, at the engineering levels, experiences and information are freely shared among engineers of all nationalities. The Italians hear the Americans and vice-versa and the result are cars improved by cross-pollination.

Southern Europe is slowly coming back, at a time Fiat’s plans are slowly bearing fruition. Key to its future, there are now Jeep products, like the Renegade and Cherokee, not to mention the 500X, confirming the event horizon of our own Derek Kreindler (henceforth nominated auto industry sage extraordinaire) and the “final” victory of the CUV over other car shapes as they seem to give people what they want. The Panda and 500 continue raising the flag in northern Europe for those who wish to go against the norm and don’t conform to the notion of German engineering superiority and overbearing market presence. In light of all of this, FCA head honcho Sergio Marchionne may be confirmed as the savviest auto exec in the business.

Alfa Romeo remains a work in progress, while Maserati sales show that FCA can still credibly build and sell a luxury car. With the upcoming Alfa and Maserati CUVs, Italian vehicles will grace in higher numbers exclusive country clubs the world over.

In the US, Fiat will remain a niche player with the 500 satisfying non-conformists, while the 500X could prove more adapted to local conditions. Fiats will also continue donning RAM horns and underlying and motivating Dodge and Chrysler cars and Jeep CUVs. FCA, in spite of the naysayers and doom-and-gloom merchants, keeps growing in the US. Chrysler Group has passed Toyota becoming the third largest OEM in that important and expanding market.

It is so easy to laugh and point at FCA products and buyers. It is also intellectually easy to step on them while they are down, ignoring all the evidence to the opposite. Taken in scope, the improvements and ongoing investments point only in one direction: Up.

Improving on already good reliability, working closely with the aftermarket to keep mechanics informed and up-to-date of the sometimes different engineering seen in their cars, keeping fingers crossed that nothing bombastic happens, FCA could be on its way to an event horizon of its own, selling cars on their merits and not just pricing, becoming a full-line maker capable of attracting and poaching customers from other makes, providing shareholders with nice returns, and creating wealth and employment the world over.

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68 Comments on “Dispatches Do Brasil: FCA Finds Its Feet...”


  • avatar
    superchan7

    Americans love image cars. If Fiat bumps up the marketing campaign for the 500L and 500X as functional yet stylish cars, they should start to increase their market share in the US.

    For all the people who cry reliability or “Fix it again Tony,” I’d like to ask why MINI is so successful despite poor reliability and high ownership cost.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Fiat might do well to market the 500x directly opposite the Subaru fleet. Subaru has lost some of their vaunted reliability reputation and the 500x would be a near-direct competitor to the different Subie AWD wagons.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I’ve been pondering Fiat lately…

        ..and it actually makes sense from a business model standpoint to have Fiats manufactured (as in, 100% of the components) and assembled in China, then exported to the rest of the world.

        This could be the most effective way to get massive numbers of really inexpensive Chinese cars built and exported to western markets, and be accepted widely by consumers.

        They could be the really stylish, really inexpensive, disposable (engineered to last for 80,000 to 100,000 miles, at most) vehicles that truly serve as the 1st major entry point for large scale Chinese vehicles to be sold in western markets.

        Price them at $8,999 USD to $12,999 USD, provide a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty, load them up with soda pop electronic entertainment technology & Cree led lighting, and blow them out the door on $109/month leases, too.

        There could be a wacky, eccentric 2nd hand industry of garage artisans/Chinese eBay/Alibaba parts procurers who dedicate their time to reviving these and keep them running in ingenious ways as the find their way to the used market, broken in a myriad of ways, with 70,000 miles on the pedometers.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          I think that Fiat is wisely trying to stay out of the “race to the bottom” sales strategy.

          I could see your plan working at GM. They’ve got a huge Chinese presence already. Being GM, they wouldn’t price them anywhere close to their true value. They would price them over $20K and then discount them to $10k.

          As always with GM, this strategy would backfire and result in yet another generation of buyers who would resolve to never ever buy another GM product. The executive involved would get a huge bonus, of course.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            GM would have a bigger problem getting 100% Chinese content cars sold in the US market, IMO.

            They already face resistance from consumers in seeing heavy Mexican or Korean content vehicles being marketed (even with the Cruze, which is a Daewoo design, GM saw fit to move production of its components and assembly to the US).

            Fiat wouldn’t have this problem nearly to the same degree since its already a “furrin’ ” brand.

            Stylish, “Italian designed,” Chinese made (100%) Fiat 500 Pops for around 10k sold/leased to anyone who can fog a mirror.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            DeadWeight,

            Why do that when they can sell 500s for $20K all day long?

            The way I see it, there’s probably $10K of profit in each 500. It’s a very simple car, and it sells for way more than a Fiesta or a Spark or a Yaris. You hardly ever see one of those “fully loaded,” but it seems like every 500 has leather and alloys and a special paint scheme and Beats, and go-fast stripes, and all that stuff that costs the manufacturer nothing but retails for thousands extra.

            GM, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. They only sell the Spark because it lets them sneak a few more Silverados under their CAFE quotas.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            That’s a fair point.

            I was using Fiat as an example of a way to get 100% Chinese made exports to obtain widespread acceptance in the US market b/c Fiat is already a furrin’ brand with a somewhat dubious quality reputation.

            Attempts to get Chinese vehicles with Chinese names nor traditional US brand names adopted wholesale in the US market haven’t gone very far as of yet.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    FCA Titanic…. avoiding the iceberg?

    Way to kill my campaign, dude.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Marcelo – nice counterpoint to the comments in Cameron’s post about the FCA quality chief being replaced. While a reputation for poor quality can be earned in a very short time (as little as one product cycle – see 1957 Chrysler products) a reputation for quality, reliability and durability takes many more years to establish. FCA is clearly setting the bar much higher for future products, which I bet will be accomplished before Sergio Marchionne hands over the reins to the new guy. I would bet that he wants to leave with FCA at the top of it’s game, and go out as the saviour.

    I Google image and Google map searched the FIAT Betim plant. Holy cow, that plant is massive.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Monty, I agree on all points. It’s necessary to stay the course and always try to improve. Much has been gained and for sure more needs to be done, but in these aspects of reliability I’m pretty sure most owners will not have to fear much, whether Chrysler Group or Fiat products.

      Yes, the plant is massive, and quite a sight! They offer tours on weekends, all you have to do is schedule. If you ever down this way, most likely visiting the historic cities of my home state (Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais) or doing business in Belo Horizonte, a visit to the factory is well worth it.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Fiat is currently the worst made car that can be purchased in the US. The 500L is far worse than the next worst car and the regular 500 is far worse than average. Most of the other worst brands in the US are Fiat brands too. Only pathetic Ford and CLA-pimping Mercedes-Benz invade Fiat’s territory at the bottom of the rankings, and even then only Chrysler was better than either of them. Dodge, Ram, Jeep, and Fiat are united at the bottom of the rankings. The Reliability index you linked to doesn’t support your assertions of Fiat being at the top or near the top of anything. 14th out of 39 is just okay, and it is flattered by the presence of so much trash that has already failed in the US. French cars? MG? What’s Saab doing on the list?

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/consumer-reports-infotainment-system-woes-mark-2014-reliability-survey/

    • 0 avatar

      Yep CJ, the linked article is one of many. Many others can be found with better or worse placement by Fiat. 14 out of 39 is not stellar, but not bad either, being that it is closer to the top in its final score than to the bottom.

      As to the American rankings, bottom scores of today are pretty near the top of reliability of a few years back, like a commenter stated in the preceding article. Also, in the preceding article many commented that most of the problems seems to be with the infotainment system. I also wonder how many of the perceived problems were of little things like the operator not knowing how the door functions. Of course, this could and should be better explained at the dealer, but it is not really a problem per se.

      Cars of today, including FCA are more reliable than ever. There are problems, like I acknowledged in the article, but they seem to be addressing most of them. I would also acknowledge that FCA seems to make more lemons than others (like VW), but most will get good cars that will provide many years of reliable service.

      The world moves on and some adapt some don’t. Don’t worry CJ, you’ll continue seeing FCA products, more and more it would seem, blighting your vision wherever you go. Of course, their position is more precarious than most, due to past errors, largely unsubstantiated today. However, from where I sit, prospects look good for them. In spite of opinions like yours, they continue to prosper and grow. I at least hope they go on as I like to have as much choice as possible.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Some commenter may have said that being at the bottom today reflects scores similar to top scores of the past, but that isn’t true at all. Maybe bottom scores now are better than bottom scores from when Triumph still sold TR7s, but the best scores of all time were achieved in the early years of Lexus. Since then, Lexus cars have added enough gadgets that they don’t match the 60 IQS index of years past, but so have many other cars. Fiats, on the other hand? They’re pretty low-content to have so many problems. Besides, thanks to CAFE, cars are getting worse again:

        http://autos.jdpower.com/content/blog-post/y56qj19/j-d-power-2014-initial-quality-study-finds-increase-in-reported-problems-for-new-vehicles.htm

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        There’s a concerted effort to create a myth about today’s bottom scores being similar to top scores of the past, but that isn’t true at all. Maybe bottom scores now are better than bottom scores from when Triumph still sold TR7s, but the best scores of all time were achieved in the early years of Lexus. Since then, Lexus cars have added enough gadgets that they don’t match the 60 IQS index of years past, but so have many other cars. Fiats, on the other hand? They’re pretty low-content to have so many problems. Besides, thanks to CAFE, cars are getting worse again:

        http://autos.jdpower.com/content/blog-post/y56qj19/j-d-power-2014-initial-quality-study-finds-increase-in-reported-problems-for-new-vehicles.htm

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You guys really need to change comment administration. Whoever provides your spam filter is in the wrong field. Spam would be better for the site than the incompetents keeping your readers from participating in discussions. Fire them.

        • 0 avatar

          Hey CJ, I read your comment in the spam, but I will respectfully disagree. Yes, there is a difference between the bottom and the top, but in European ratings Fiat is nowhere near the bottom, much closer to the top. So while between a Civic and a Land Rover differences are pretty big, between a Corolla and a Punto the gap is not that big.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Surprised your summary didn’t mention how they’re spinning off Ferrari.

    • 0 avatar

      That can be interpreted in many ways Corey. It could be that they are saving the family jewel for themselves and eventually sell themselves off to Volkswagen or someone. Could be that they are just following some investor groups advice. Could be they are signalling to someone to come and take Ferrari off their hands. Fact is Ferrari can’t survive on its lonesome and will continue providing powertrains and other systems to Maserati and Alfa Romeo, so despite the different structure, it is still very much a part of Fiat Auto.

      Plus, I’ve herd this story forever. Remains to be seen if it will really happen this time.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Thanks, I just read a quickie blurb about it – and I haven’t seen anything pop up on here about it. So that’s as far as my knowledge got!

        I’ll have to go read more at Yahoo Autos (ew).

  • avatar
    deanst

    I assume you are trying to be contrarian, but the facts don’t support your position:
    -being #14 on one list of reliability ratings is not “in or near the top” (not to mention jeep and chrysler at the bottom)
    -as far as wall street is concerned, there is widespread laughter at the thought of FCA growing from 4.4 million to 7 million cars annually
    -Maserati sales may be up – from a very small base – but i have read many critical reviews and no glowing reviews. Anyone want to bet that reliability will be solid? I thought not.
    -FCA has not surpassed Toyota in the U.S. – they merely sold more vehicles in ONE month; not year-to-date

    FCA remains a firm that competes largely on price, and earns probably 150% of its total profits from Jeep And Ram. They have no volume car products worth mentioning (unless you want to argue about Charger/300), and would get killed if gas prices jumped up. Obviously Sergio is doing better than the Germans, but that’s a pretty low bar. He’s doing the right thing by exploiting the strength in Ram and Jeep, but he desperately needs some decent cars if he is going to survive long-term.

    • 0 avatar

      Same facts different viewpoints. We could argue all day until we get red in the face, but that won’t change you choose to look at it one way and I another. I won’t discard your position as many do think like you. Others however think like me.

      Your view is very North American. They have a little operation down south selling large numbers of cars at tremendous profit and have lived off of this little cash cow for a few decades. In Europe, with the southern part coming back, they stand to cash in and have product ready and coming out at exactly the right time, not to mention products like the 500 and Panda which have quite respectful sales. One of them (or was it the Punto?) even managed to be in the Top 10 Europe wide for the year.

      They have a presence in India, have managed a foothold in China. Working more closely with another Asian make, like Mistsubishi or Mazda, or in the past Suzuki, will only help them.

      They are in a better position today than they were even 5 years ago, and that is what the article reflects. Any “fact” in it is easily disputable to be sure.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Marcelo’s post provides some context to the poor rating that are specific to the US. World wide Fiat has a much better ranking. Marcelo is pointing out that, that global quality and reliability effort effort most likely, as it has in other new markets, will improve rapidly. I agree with this assertion.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Dean,

      Just addressing your third point about reliability: it’s not an issue in the luxury market. Lord knows that Audi, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover and others have sold some unreliable cars. People come back for more.

      Having an unreliable car is a small inconvenience, nothing more, and it’s efficiently dealt-with by most luxury dealers.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Thanks Marcelo, for this great and enlightening context. I feel Fiat is new in the US market and as such will have teething problems, this is to be expected and will recede with time.
    It is, however, very hard to recover from “reliability” reputations. Look at VW in the US that beat Ford and Chevy (who have no excuse) in the survey results but still suffer endless ridicule.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, the world changes and revolves, but people choose to look at it like it was and not how it is. The reliability reputation will eventually go away, as they are in it for the long haul and the strength of Chrysler group in the US can only help that along. Sometimes, seeing the thing from inside, like I have been able to do, makes you see things differently. People in the company are well aware of this and are working on it.

      Kind of like the rust reputation. Fact is that they did suffer from rust issues in the 70s and before, due to many factors, among them the Italian government forcing them to buy Soviet-bloc steel in a political and not business decision. In the late 70s, early 80s, they were among the first, if not the first European OEM to produce all their cars in galvanized steel throughout the car. The jokes and reputation lived on until the 00s, being that now in the 10s this has finally died off, at least in Europe, and there are still complaints and jokes, but not really about rust.

      Things change. A Peugeot, the 2008 or 3008, I don’t remember, has made the list of the most reliable cars in the UK this year. A Peugeot! People would do well to pay attention, at least in cars it would open up their choices as there are so many compelling choices out there.

      En passant, thanks for the kind words, :)!

    • 0 avatar

      BTW, thanks for the kind words!

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, the world changes and revolves, but people choose to look at it like it was and not how it is. The reliability reputation will eventually go away, as they are in it for the long haul and the strength of Chrysler group in the US can only help that along. Sometimes, seeing the thing from inside, like I have been able to do, makes you see things differently. People in the company are well aware of this and are working on it.

      Kind of like the rust reputation. Fact is that they did suffer from rust issues in the 70s and before, due to many factors, among them the Italian government forcing them to buy Soviet-bloc steel in a political and not business decision. In the late 70s, early 80s, they were among the first, if not the first European OEM to produce all their cars in galvanized steel throughout the car. The jokes and reputation lived on until the 00s, being that now in the 10s this has finally died off, at least in Europe, and there are still complaints and jokes, but not really about rust.

      Things change. A Peugeot, the 2008 or 3008, I don’t remember, has made the list of the most reliable cars in the UK this year. A Peugeot! People would do well to pay attention, at least in cars it would open up their choices as there are so many compelling choices out there.

      • 0 avatar
        Beerboy12

        Just on the rust issues, it was a huge problem for all brands in the late 70’s, early 80’s. I understand that there was a perfect storm of solid reasons for this. The energy crisis of the 70’s forced companies to drastically reduce weight. The steel used to make cars became a thin as paper. Then, there was, at the same time, a bit of a color revolution. There where all sorts of new color paints for cars and many of them were not well tested and so… RUST! European and Japanese cars where super thin and the paint tech was just not there yet. Here in the US, Ford just did not bother with undercoats in some cases… (Crown Vic, I believe)
        My point being, rust was an 80’s problem, not a brand problem.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    The better work on those Alfa sales goals. I don’t think they are going to get to 400k units/year by 2018.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. From what I hear, 2015 will be another disappointing one for alfisti. Seems 2016 is the new horizon for Alfa with new models finally making an appearance.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Alfa might as well be Vector Motors Corp at this point. It seems like it is all vaporware.

        • 0 avatar

          Well working on it they are. So in that sense it’s not all vaporware and there are prototypes about. Word has it that one of these prototypes was actually here in Betim, being that the Brazilians were given a chance of working on the suspension. My guess is that they still haven’t decided conclusively on how it should look, and the difficulties of meshing a Chrysler RWD platform to behave with Italian verve.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Vector had prototypes too.

            They are supposed to have 8 new models in the next 4 years. Sure there is the 4C, but that is limited to 1200 units in the US. Plus, they are down year over year in terms of volume and market share.

            They had .52% of the European market in 2013. Alpha has the same relevance in Europe as Mitsubishi has in the US.

          • 0 avatar

            Won’t disagree. Alfa does seem like a mirage at times. Everyone just knows that there is so much potential there, but the window to get it right might be closing. Hopefully, things will be clearer in a couple of years.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I say this as a guy who would be intrigued by an Alfa sedan.

          • 0 avatar

            Save up on those dollars, bball. It won’t be cheap!

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Hey Marecelo!
    I would love to see the huge FCA plant.

    How many platforms are these vehicles based on?? (hard one I know)

    The huge FCA plant is the way of the future. Countries like Australia just can’t support operations that large, let alone pay the $68k wage the line workers get.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Big Al! It’s a nice visit. In the past, and maybe today, but I guess not because I think there is work being done 7 days a week, a few laps around the test track with a Fiat pilot tester was also available and was very fun, I can tell you!

      As to platforms, there are at least three, the one under the Palio Fire and Strada, the one under new Palio, Uno and Grand Siena, the one under the Bravo. All of which are stretched and widened according to need and model, and are mished and mashed according to need and depending on the car. After the new 250,000 a year factory is being built in Pernambuco, there Fiat Brasil will deal with additional platforms and the new mini “City” car, Renegade and 500X will come out of that place. Also, the rumors keep growing that the 500 and new Journey sold as Fiat Freemont could also be soon produced in Betim and those platforms are being worked on in the R&D center.

    • 0 avatar

      Oooops, forgot Punto and Linea, so that makes it four….

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I believe in FCA reliability when I see many 20 year old FCA vehicles with happy owners.

    And being #14 in Europe where VW is considered reliable car and the competition is Renault and Citroen doesn’t mean anything. People in Europe only drive 10000 miles a year and after 12 years a car is scrapped because it has too bad emissions and is expensive to bring through mandatory safety inspection. In addition Europeans are crazy about maintenance. In the US people drive 15000 miles annually and cars have 15-20 years of useful life. And US people barelymaintain cars. If a brand is reliable in the US – it is reliable. Being #14 in Europe is not reliable in my book. And since when do I want to pick #14?

    • 0 avatar

      being that number 14 is closer to number one than 39, guess it shows my biases. I don’t live in a farm, and that rare emergency at 300 thousand plus km being a reality, guess what, a Fiat engine will most likely start. Watch the timing belts, it’ll run forever.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        Mentioning that Fiat still use timing belts proves my point. :)

        You are right that in overall scheme most cars improved a lot. And it seems Fiat at least is cheaper to repair than Germans.

        And again, you liking Fiat keeps variety up and the Japanese honest.

        • 0 avatar

          Hear, hear!

          And timing belts do keep engines well balanced and quiet, at the cost of greater maintenance, that I somewhat, happily swallow, though new Fiat engines do away with that. Giacossa must be weeping, :)….

          • 0 avatar
            HerrKaLeun

            Never noticed my Mazda 6 and CRV bouncing from lane to lane due to the vibrations caused by the chain.

            I think that is a lazy manufacturer excuse that have outdatec motors. Like in the 90s sales people of cars that didn’t have ABS and airbags claimed thosr things are not necessary andmay even be dangerous.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m not talking vibrations, I’m talking noise. My Ford with the chain was very noisy in some conditions, like a tunnel, you could easily hear it. Other cars with chains were less so, but you can almost always here them in certain conditions.

            Anyway, it’s not a question of old technology. Some modern engines are going back to belts, designed to run in oil, that promise as much durability as the chain, with the added benefit of silence.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “I believe in FCA reliability when I see many 20 year old FCA vehicles with happy owners.”

      The problem with this approach is it looks backwards, not forwards.

      Someone applying your logic in the early ’80s would have bought a K-Car over a Camry or Accord, because at that point there would have been *plenty* of 20 year old /6 & Torqueflite equipped Valiants and Darts still providing their happy owners with more or less trouble free service. There wouldn’t have been few 20 year old Toyotas and no 20 year old Hondas – and most of the 10 year old Toyotas and Hondas would have been rusted out at that point.

      No doubt many people did buy early K-Cars based on the Mopar reputation for extremely durable mechanical components. In hindsight we can see that they made the wrong choice.

      We won’t know how todays crop of car hold up for a few years – but it wouldn’t surprise me if some modern Mopars (such as LX cars and RAMs with large, understressed normally aspirated engines) hold up reasonably well in the long haul.

  • avatar
    wmba

    To quote from the article, as it bears repitition as to what NOT to do, and reminds me of the 1980s and earlier:

    “There also seems to be a problem with follow through and repetition. Italian and Brazilian culture mesh well in this regard. Improvisation does and can happen and I have seen condemned bits and pieces being stripped from cars while the same parts are taken from half-built cars. It is easy to see the havoc created upstream in the production, while at the same time the possibility for errors is ripe. Some of the initially condemned pieces are sometimes reworked, deemed good, and installed in other cars.

    Brazilian workers and engineers are also notorious for not adhering strictly to a given procedure. While a Japanese worker has the reputation of repeating the same procedure for 40 years without question, workers and professionals in Brazil will often improvise, turning step 2 and 4 into just one, or doing what was supposed to be step 6 before step 5 and so on.”

    I wonder what the Japanese consultants think when they see these sorts of shenanigans. Probably, “Hey, we’ve got a job for life!”

    Rework? Stripping parts off already half-made cars to stick on others more complete? Losing track of what’s going on? Buying parts without a consistent QA inspection so that duds are only found during vehicle assembly? Forsooth, the mind boggles.

    Keep these cars away from me, thanks all the same. Goes along with what my friend, the warranty admin at a local FCA dealer, who drives a Hyundai Sonata, says about abysmal parts quality that hasn’t improved in years and years.

    If the brainiacs at Fiat cannot work out that putting decent quality parts in the car in the first place by not stiffing suppliers, who also learn to not give a darn, then the warranty costs would lower, and overall costs could well go down. Plus the assemblers and engineers could get a rest from f*rting around being improvised problem solvers.

    What an utter shambles! I bet accounting for warranty costs is not integrated into building costs. You have one bunch constantly buying cheaper parts and crowing about the low costs of building this rubbish. I speculate that, in some other location, different accountants complain about warranty costs, and never the twain shall meet.

    Sergio, being the brainiac he is, reads Consumer Reports, and finds his products are at the bottom of the heap, even more than usual, and fires the Manager of Quality in North America. No mention of Quality Assurance, he hasn’t a clue what that is anyway, because if the company actually had a system, there would be procedures in place preventing the firing of personnel on management whim. Instead, the system would ALREADY know what was going on, and things would not degenerate to this sad state of affairs. However, that wouldn’t square with his out-of-date swashbuckling style.

    Honestly, Marcelo, your article shows how bad this company really is. Why you continue to bloviate on behalf of this ridiculous outfit is beyond me. Imagine Embraer being run by this bunch of cowboys, who apparently really rate themselves as being magnificent.

    And no, I really don’t need to read any defence of the grand and glorious Fiat. Your words above do more to condem the company than anything I’ve read elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      Hence, this article was not called “in defense of”.

      It was an honest (as so far as it is related from personal experience, and hindered with that personal touch intact) report, showing some of the good and some of the bad of the workings inside a manufacturer.

      Do not, please, fool yourself into thinking such shenanigans don’t exist in other makes. From what I hear, and you can believe me or not, I’ve heard from people working from Ford to Toyota, this kind of thing happens, in all OEMs, to greater or lesser degrees.

      If you want, and it is, this is an exposé of what happens here. As a side note, and an interesting story, worthy of an article in and of itself, I know a guy who went north to give a lecture on paint shop processes, to workers and floor people, who was met with disbelief by the attendees, when he related how painting was done in Brazil and that they would be investing in that plant to bring it up to snuff.

      In the middle of his presentation, a hefty guy, reminiscent by his description, of a ZZTop musician, stands up and starts to walk away. My friend interrupts the presentation and calls on him, to inquire what was afoot. The lardy American declares that what was being shown was bs, and that no operation, and to no not paraphrase, most especially in tropical hellhole, could accomplish what was standard practice at the tropical digs.

      Mikey and Tresmonos, plus a bunch of others here, know what goes on in a plant. I see it sometimes, fleetingly, and can not always get the full picture, but it is endlessly fascinating.

      The miracle is that in the end we get cars whose parts join others and work well enough. What goes on backstage is, however, not for those with an easily upset stomach.

      YMMV, :)!

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        Marcelo, I typically like your articles. But this one reads like from FCA website.

        And the production methods of QM you describe sound more like 1980 Lada production.

        To each his own, I know you like Fiat. But this all sounds like a VW fanboy claiming ignition coil replacemen is regular maintenance. I worked in a German VW factory and never heard of such rework. Especially reusing parts deemed not good enough for car A. In car B. I also can’t believe they make money with all the rework.

        And the fact they need Japanese consultants speaks volume of where they are compared to Japan. If your claim that Toyota also rework, why then hire them to teach?

        Really no offense, I allways like your insight and if you like FCA vehicles I’m happy for you. And more people buying FCA keeps Toyonda prices down :)

        • 0 avatar

          My friend, HerrKaLeaun, your posts always bring with them a problem. Unlike others so easily knocked down do to easily refutable claims, you bringe to the table hard and valid questions. All I can say is keep vigilant, I, stress the I, see little difference between one and all, and I have seen it all. Suffice to say is that witness to many a makers’ proceedings, an FCA would not, cause of that, leave the contenders’ possibility. YMMV.

  • avatar
    ccode81

    “While a Japanese worker has the reputation of repeating the same procedure for 40 years without question”
    Actually Japanese workers are motivated to make suggestion of improvement when feeling a question on inefficiency. Well known as term KAIZEN among the QC field.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      Exactly. That quote describes the epitome of classic GM or Ford-style *mass* production, not Japanese lean production.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, I know. I was pointing out by the example that the Japanese worker is considered more disciplined than our worker and once they settle on a procedure they will strictly adhere to it.

      Meanwhile here, the workers and even engineers will change the procedures in myriad ways. Sometimes these changes improve things and are adopted, other times in a place that uses a process to put out a product made of many parts, the changes can spin off into dangerous directions.

      Kaizen is a fact of life in all industries nowadays.

      • 0 avatar
        ccode81

        Thanks to verify.
        Yes , I know what you mean.
        Having owned both very early serial Alfa S.Z and very late serial R.Z, I can tell how much they cut corners on building process when time goes. One was very serious prototype, the other is “build it up whatever with remaining parts stock” kind of car.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    If nr. 15 on the list is the average, then 14 is harldy ‘the top of the list’ Fiat barely gets out of the ‘cars to avoid’ (onlike Chrysler) here in Europe, and I think that is mainly because their commercial vehicles have very good engines, and are regularly serviced and get better maintenance in general than an average passenger car.
    I can admit that Fiat (as Chrysler) does build a lot more interesting vehicles, both in design and engines, than the ‘average’ boring Volkswagens, but no one ever buys a Fiat passenger car because of their reliability.
    It is fair to mention that they do better than most french brands, even comnsidering how many french cars are really rebadged Nissans and Mitsubishis, but they are still not even close to the German cars or the ‘pure’ (mostly british built) Japanese cars.

  • avatar
    bobman

    Hey Marcelo, great article as always. I look up the locations you mention in your posts. I have to get down there sometime too. Was hoping to do that for the world cup but couldn’t make it happen.
    I find some of the folks here to be very misinformed. I’m not an expert in how the CR ratings work, however, I do know that they have very little to do with the quality of the manufacturing process. All FCA plants fall under the WCM (World Class Manufacturing) introduced in 2004(?). When Fiat took control of Chrysler in 2009, it implemented those methodologies there too. Several plant have attained the Gold level certification (Tychy, Poland, Tofas in Turkey, Pomigiano and the engine plant also in Turkey). Additionally, they have 7 silver and 26 bronze certified plants. The rest of their 121 plants are in various stages of achieving their bronze certifications. Quality will keep getting better as continuous improvement in every aspect of the methodology is constantly monitored. But you know all this.

    In an interview about the CR ratings, Sergio said.
    “I am not taking issue with the survey itself, other than it is clear that we have focused on the wrong things in dealings with some parts of the customer base,” Marchionne said. “We need to go back in and fix that perception because I know that from an engagement standpoint the whole house has been driven in a completely different direction that those surveys are indicating. So we have an absolute mismatch of internal evaluation and commitment.”
    Sounds to me that he’s expecting this to be fixed. No excuses accepted. Again, sorry to see Betts take the hit for this, but, the message has to get out.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the kind words!

      As to misinformed folks, well that first paragraph was for them. Both you and I know how much of a mess Chrysler plants were before Fiat took over and the amount of work needed to bring them up to standards. I know it surprised a lot of people in the company.

      As a result Chrysler vehicles are improving and will continue to do so as the changes bear effect. The customer will eventually notice it, too.

      As to Marchionne’s comments, well it seems we both know people in the company are aware of the perception problem. I hope they stay the course as these things take time.

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