It’s considered conventional wisdom that you should never buy a car in its first year of production: that gives the automaker time to “work the kinks out.” And that’s the kind of thinking Chrysler officials are working to dispel as they prepare to launch the new Dodge Dart in Belvidere.
There have been some big changes at the 47 year old Belvidere Assembly plant since the 2009 Chrysler/Fiat alliance. The two automakers are working hard to overcome reputations for problems with quality and reliability. That’s why they’re eager to show off a 12-million dollar lab for testing parts, 3-D imaging, robots installing vehicle panels, and even more testing. Amin Alidina is Chrysler’s Director of Manufacturing Quality. He says one of the first ways a customer perceives a car’s quality is by opening and closing its doors…and with the Dodge Dart, they’re quantifying “the science behind the feel.” Alidina has an employee demonstrate a machine that closes the driver-side door on the Dart, while measuring the amount of force it takes to properly shut. Those numbers will be considered in determining what "feels like quality" when shutting a car door.
Meg Novacek is Chrysler’s director of Reliability Quality. She says the company has upped the number of people testing the Dart under everyday ordinary conditions: they’re running errands around town and pretty much driving like normal people for 36-thousand miles. Novacek says, "so if there's a noise they don't like, or the seat comfort changes from the first day to the last day, or if there's some other observation, the check engine light comes on or something like that, all of those observations are recorded every single day." She says that’s one way they’ll catch and correct issues with the Dart before the general public climbs behind the wheel. Steve Hughes heads up the Belvidere plant’s new body shop: he has worked for Chrysler for 26 years… since the days of the Omni and the Horizon. He says he’s proud of the focus on quality and the way the new Dart looks. He says it's easy to build something you are excited about...and he can't wait to get a Dart of his own.
There’s no official release date for the Dart. But corporate employees in who visited Belvidere say it will be out in the second quarter. And since it IS the second quarter, the Dart should hit dealerships by the end of June.