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What was (or is) it like to work at Chrysler? (2002)

Note: while we know the identities of most (if not all) of the people who are quoted here, we hope you understand that it would not be wise to print their names. New additions are at the bottom of the page.

RS (an engineer from the 1950s through to now) wrote:

"Chrysler was a 'different' place. Chrysler had the best engineers, and the most employees that really liked and understood cars. A lot of folks I knew from GM and Ford would have fit better working at GE or Whirlpool. Chrysler did not need 'Brand Management,' because everyone that worked there knew what a car should be. That eventually became lost when the Bean Counter Brigade took over after Newberg.

Newberg has always been cast as the bad guy, but it is his ouster that nearly brought down the company. He was trying to take CC back to its roots as an Engineering oriented company. He was also trying to weed out the Purchasing and Executive folks on the take from Suppliers. They are the ones that ganged up to get rid of him. After he was gone they brought in Tom Dewey and his Law Firm to whitewash the situation. The Bean Counter regime took over, and pulled the money back out of Engineering, and out of Tax Credits, to fund support of the stock prices.

When the market for big cars collapsed in 1974, there was nothing in place to meet the new smaller and lighter car market. Also. the plants were in bad condition because money to update them had been used for dividends to support the stocks. And there was no money left in the coffers. That is where Iaccoca came in. To just have a car to sell to the market CC dusted off a design I had worked on for the 196X Valiant; cut the material thickness of the steel unibody in half, and named it Volare.

Next came the K Cars. But the real savior of the company was the minivan. For many years Tony Cassani, Bob Marianich, and myself had talked about a small van that could be a personal utility vehicle. Tony made a 3/8 clay model of it. On a walk through Styling Iaccoca saw the model and simply said, "Do That". The rest is history. It saved Chrysler and spawned a whole new market segment.

In the early 90s I [said that] the point repair bays were not really needed. It is far more economical to stop the line and make corrections than to keep building something that needed later repairs. The head of Chrysler North American Manufacturing became absolutely furious with me. You cannot stop the line, and repair bays are a necessary function in the manufacturing process. I am happy to say he and his thinking have now been replaced. Chrysler plants, along with GM plants and Ford, now have panic buttons on the line for every assembly personnel. When they spot a problem, they are to stop the line, and corrections made before the line starts again.

The worst thing I see about Chrysler now is bad mechanical design. When I worked at Chrysler, their mechanical engineering was the best. My son has a repair shop in Atlanta specializing in Honda. He really moans when a late model Chrysler comes in. I was there last year when he had a Sebring convertible to work on, changing the transmission and repairing an oil leak from the head gasket, a very common problem. I think the Sebring is one of the nicest cars on the road to look at, except when you open the hood and look at the engine bay, or put it on a hoist and look underneath. It has some of the most poorly thought out mechanicals I have ever seen. Beneath the skin, it is a terrible car.

I attribute this in a large part to Computer Aided Design. Chrysler is so proud of CAD, but I see it as their downfall. Over the past decade or so Engineering has slowly become dominated by people who are trained CAD Operators, but not trained Designers. Experienced Designers have vanished from the Auto Industry. They have been replaced by CAD Operators with no practical Design experience. Just because something works on a CRT does not mean it is practical design.

Just as GM has brought in "Car Guy" Lutz to clean up their awful product lines, The auto industry as a whole needs to bring back knowledgeable designers to clean up Engineering. ...

Another engineer wrote:

[In the 1960s and 70s,] dyno tests were conducted in cells 12 and 13 of Building 135 in the old Highland Park complex. You can pick up some info on the infamous "Cell 13" through a search engine, might include names like Ted Flack, Pat Baer, Larry Knowlton, Dick Winkles. Cell 13 was the test room for race engines back in the 1970s, cell 12 had been converted into catalytic converter testing. Cell 13 ran Direct Connection W2 340 engines in the 1970s, and was used as the development cell for the Viper engine (Bob Zeimis and Dick Winkles) in the late 1980s. Down the hall was the Turbine group, which was disbanded in 1978.

What a great place to work! At night, you could be a mile away while they were running the W2 340s at 10,000 (some tests would run 12,000) rpm, running straight exhaust pipes out of the room, and it still sounded like you were only a few hundred feet away. One time a crank broke and the vibration damper flew in a circles around the room....we counted 14 witness marks in the walls afterward (it circled the room 14 times!). And all they had was plexiglass between them and flying engine parts.

Spicoli wrote about working in 2001:

I used to work in the department that welded and finished those (LH) C-posts before they were painted, they are pure rubbish. And plant management knows it.

Read that last sentence again, everything else I write tonight is trivial compared to that. That tells you everything you need to know about the problems the company has.

The weld on the Intrepids is fairly easy to finish, it's small. The weld on the Concorde is a bit bigger and harder, but it's curvature allows the grinder some "wiggle-room" to compromise a bad fit/weld and still look acceptable, most of the time. The 300M C-post is the largest weld and the flattest surface of the three, with multiple complications The flatter surface demands a better finish to appear right, the long weld on thin overheated metal is causing all the surrounding sheet metal to warp. Area management fights with this issue every day, upper management and engineering know it too. Many, many ongoing engineering fixes have been attempted, with limited success (obviously).

The present situation is, this is semi-skilled finesse work (not common in a modern assembly plant), the guys have about 47 seconds per C-post to do their job assignment, 1200+ plus people ( 1 shift ) were laid-off in May 01, the seniority-based job-bidding and bumping is still going on (lots of new people in new jobs), the remaining workforce has had it's morale shattered, I greatly fear for my job, as do many around me.

We're physically and emotionally drained. Many of us are now doing much harder physical labour than we've done in years due to the leaving of all the low seniority people. Hundreds are off work with new injuries. Meanwhile we hear things like this:

  • "Oh, it's only the low volume 300M, it's too expensive to change the stamping dies now for such a low volume car."
  • "The product cycle is almost over, it's too late for major engineering changes now. Besides, this process isn't being used on the next model."
  • "We know we have a problem, we're working on it, meantime we need you to stand on your head and spit wooden nickels to get it right until we can come up with something better, I'll get right back to you on that."
  • And my favorite - "It's OK, you're too picky, the customer will never notice that, nobody's complaining, it's only the passenger side, and of course, I need to get my monthly production quota, SHIP IT!"

We're all only human, we feel used and abused and under-appreciated. Our management is facing its own set of issues and pressures, quality is suffering, no doubt about it. This whole experience has and still is a life changing learning experience. You don't lay-off a third of your work force with out many, many complex human issues contributing to the mess you were trying to fix in the first place.

I hope every ALLPAR regular sees this next bit. Blind corporate loyalty is definitely misplaced. An Intrepid bought before May 2001 is a much different car than an Intrepid bought now. Production quality is ALWAYS in flux, as are management teams. Inspect any potential purchase carefully and buy what suits your needs regardless of who made it. Any company can produce samples of lemons or stars. The best assurance of quality is long-term ongoing stability within the company. Unfortunately, as we all know, that is not the case presently at DCX.

Bob wrote about the 1990s/2000s:

[This was directed to "Spicoli"] My point is simple-the root cause of the issue [a problematic body contour on the LH] is poor vehicle design practice and a lack of communication between Design ("Styling" for those that are not familiar with current terms), Engineering, and Manufacturing process people. I am aware of the processes used originally, most of the "fixes", and the current troubles. In my opinion, you should NOT feel responsible for not being able to correct the problem, you obviously care about the quality vehicle you build, because you can only do so much. The team effort should be, as you are well aware, directed at the root cause, regardless of where it leads, and not be used as a whipping post to beat up on the production people. This is an issue that must be changed in order for the company to survive.

Since Eaton came in and started the kingdom building among the various groups, I feel that the individual's power to support the company has been eroded. After all, now, if you speak up about an issue, you are considered the nail to be pounded down, not an angel spreading the "quality word."

There are those of us on the outside that not only respect the work that you and your compatriots do, but fully understand the implications and directions of "management" that you must endure. You are to be congratulated for your concise thoughts, description, and concern for the customer.

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