TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Now that Fiat and Chrysler have taken another step toward full merger with last week’s management reorganization, the two auto makers are stepping up the meshing of Fiat’s manufacturing process at Chrysler plants.

That’s the word from Massimo Risi, head of the World-Class Manufacturing program and a long-time Fiat engineer, who began reporting to a senior Chrysler executive in April 2010. Risi spoke during a manufacturing seminar at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

Fiat is taking the lead in implementing WCM worldwide, because it has more experience, Risi says. “Chrysler has parts of the WCM in its plants, but not all the parts. We’re working together to improve both companies.”

The Fiat process typically focuses on boosting productivity and quality, but it also includes extensive employee involvement and plant safety issues.

Asked how the Fiat process compares with Toyota’s vaunted Toyota Production System, Risi recalls trips he took to Japan to see how auto makers there, including Toyota, operated their plants.

“The first time, my colleagues and I were surprised, because we did not see one problem,” he says. On a later trip, “we saw some problems they had.”

Risi declines to say whether Fiat believes it has equaled Toyota’s esteemed position. “That’s not a real target,” he says, adding that “the final result will be decided by our customers.”

During his talk, Risi emphasizes the importance of getting everyone to pull together if WCM is to be successful.

Fiat has an elaborate suggestion program aimed at eliciting ideas from everyone company-wide. He credits the program for reducing absenteeism and creating million of dollars in savings.