Chrysler's Marchionne celebrates the Dart and freedom from bail-out loans

May 24, 2012

The much-heralded Dodge Dart should be in dealerships by the end of next month. To celebrate, Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne visited the home of the Dart Thursday -- the Belvidere Assembly Plant.

Marchionne also observed an important milestone during the visit: it was exactly one year since the automaker repaid its “bail-out” loan from the government. He reportedly told about 1000 employees who attended a closed-door town hall meeting at the plant that the loan was paid off six years early through “hard work and determination,” and the company “was once again free to chart our own future.”

Marchionne says now everything is riding on the public introduction of the Dart -- the customer’s perception of quality has to be flawless:

I’ve reminded them of the importance of this car to our collective existence as Chrysler, to the 60,000 people who work in our house, because our future hangs on how well we do here.

The Dart is the first joint product of Chrysler’s partnership with Fiat. Marchionne also assured the Belvidere employees there’s more than the Dart in their future. He said there will be new products to replace the Jeep Compass and Patriot when they end production in 2014.

Marchionne says all of the company’s plants are running at capacity now to keep up with demand: he wishes Belvidere could add its third shift now instead of later in the summer. Plant manager Kurt Kavajecz says it was “energizing” for the Belvidere employees to engage with their top boss for a few hours for the second time this year. He says it only deepens their commitment to get the Dart right.

That’s an attitude Marchionne says Europeans could learn from while dealing with their economic crisis. He made that stretch while talking about potential collaborations with automaker Mazda. Marchionne says there needs to be more consolidation before the auto industry is healthy. On a grander scale, he says the biggest stumbling block for Europe in recovering from its economic crisis can be overcome by acting more like his workers in Belvidere: quit “belly-aching,” cherish the healthy and vibrant things going on in the world, and build the future with a proud and committed attitude. Hear it in his own words by clicking the “listen” button above.

Other news from Marchionne's visit:

  • Marchionne is willing to expand on the new collaboration with Japanese automaker Mazda by building their cars in Fiat or Chrysler plants.
  • Marchionne says odds are greater than 50% that Fiat will buy more shares of Chrysler in July from a UAW trust. Fiat can purchase up to 8% every six months through June 2016.