Chrysler Corp. and the United Auto Workers yesterday announced an unprecedented effort to improve the production quality of Chrysler's new line of compact K-body cars that will go on sale in August.
Acknowledging that Chrysler's future depends on the successful introduction of the front-wheel-drive K cars, company and union leaders said that assembly line foremen and workers will be instructed not to let shoddy cars leave the production plants.
Richard Vining, Chrysler executive vice president for manufacturing, said quality committees with management and union representatives will be established at Chrysler plants to deal with production problems that affect quality.
"If a worker notes a defect, he should not only call it to the attention of supervision, but should expect to have the defect remedied," said UAW Vice President March Stepp. "If a foreman tells a worker to 'forget it' -- as has sometimes happened in the past -- we will expect that worker to make a report, and if plant supervision doesn't 'blow the whistle' on that foreman, the union will . . . and we will go straight to the top of the corporation," said Stepp.
Vining said the emphasis on quality was the top priority of Chrysler management, beginning with Chairman Lee Iococca.
"We don't knowingly ship any vehicle with a defect." Vining said. But the focus on quality "is long overdue," he added.
Vining and Stepp described the agreement yesterday to a meeting of 50 union officials from the Newark, Del., and Detroit plants where the K-body cars -- the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant -- will be built.
Details such as the exact makeup of the quality committees in the plants, remain to be settled, the two men said. The local union officials agree with the necessity of a quality strategy to protect auto workers' jobs, Stepp said. t
Chrysler and the UAW, turning their backs on a past of strife and suspicion, began to move closer together last fall when the company's financial problems became critical. The union lobbied hard in Congress to win approval of the $1.5 billion federally guaranteed loan in December. This week Chrysler received the first $500 million installment. The union members also gave up an estimated $462 million in salary benefits over the next three years as part of the Chrysler financial aid plan.
Douglas Fraser, the UAW president, then was elected to Chrysler's board of directors, the first major union leader to accept such a post. The cooperation on quality is the next logical step, said Vining and Stepp.
"We have to listen to everybody. That's what's new and unique," said Vining.
Chrysler, long known for high-quality engineering began to encounter serious quality problems with the introduction of the 1976-model Dodge Aspens and Plymouth Volares. Various authorities cite different possible reasons -- a reduction of the engineering staff during the 1974-1975 recession, a greater emphasis on production volume at the expense of quality and a deterioration in plant morale.
To prevent similar problems from crippling the new K cars, Chrysler says it has changed its planning and production operations significantly to prevent quality problems by better engineering, and catching production-line defects before the cars leave the assembly plants.