DETROIT – Doug Betts, Fiat Chrysler’s longtime quality chief, abruptly left the company Tuesday, one day after its brands performed poorly in Consumer Reports magazine’s annual reliability rankings.
Fiat Chrysler said in a statement that Betts, who has been with Chrysler for the past seven years, exited the company to pursue other interests. He was immediately replaced by Mark Chernoby, who will head quality for the global company, and Matthew Liddane, who will lead Chrysler Group quality in North America.
Betts, who was senior vice-president of quality, joined Chrysler in November of 2007 after more than 21 years of quality experience at Nissan, Toyota, Michelin and General Motors. But he had trouble fixing the company’s longstanding quality problems, and it continually fared poorly in the influential Consumer Reports rankings.
Company spokeswoman Shawn Morgan would not comment on any possible connection between Betts’ departure and the rankings. A message was left Tuesday for Betts.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of the newly merged company, has shown little patience with executives whose performances fall short of expectations. He’s often changed his top managers since taking control of the company after it emerged from a U.S. government-sponsored bankruptcy in 2009.
But AutoTrader.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs said Marchionne had been more patient than usual with Betts. “It clearly sends the message that Chrysler management is not going to accept bad quality going forward,” she said. “They need to do something. Yesterday’s results were really dismal.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles fared worst in the Consumer Reports rankings this year. The Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Fiat brands occupied the bottom four spots of 28 brands ranked by the magazine. Chrysler was the company’s highest-ranked brand at No. 22. Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler all dropped from last year’s rankings.
The new nine-speed transmission in the Jeep Cherokee was among the company’s headaches.
The instability created by combining Chrysler with Fiat has not helped reliability as the companies switched to using common engines, transmissions and underpinnings to build multiple vehicles worldwide, said Consumer Reports’ head of auto testing Jake Fisher. “It’s just this kind of moving target,” Fisher said.
Chrysler’s quality problems, though, can’t be blamed solely on Betts, Krebs said. The company must fix engineering, design and manufacturing problems as well, she said. Such problems, she said, could hurt Chrysler’s sales in the future if customers have problems with their cars.
Chernoby, who now serves as FCA’s head of product development, will keep that position in addition to his quality duties. Liddane, a longtime Chrysler engineer, previously was vice-president of systems and components for Chrysler Group. He has served as chief engineer for Jeep products and led the company’s new compact car efforts.
The Toyota and Lexus brands topped the Consumer Reports survey. It’s the eighth year in a row that a Toyota brand has led the rankings.
Consumer Reports’ annual survey is closely watched by the auto industry, since many potential buyers follow the Yonkers, N.Y.-based company’s recommendations.