Dealers to the Rescue…Again

Steve Finlay 2

April 9, 2014

3 Min Read
Dealers to the Rescue…Again

Once again, an automaker in distress turns to its dealers for help.

This time, it’s General Motors, which is awash in a recall crisis because of defective and deadly ignition switches.

GM will need life boats for this shipwreck. The waters are dark and deep. So it’s dealers to the rescue.

First order of business is for them to fix the millions of affected models. Do it quickly and as conveniently as possible for the unlucky owners.

Beyond that, dealers also must do brand damage control. They must reassure people, hold some hands and try to prevent existing customers from becoming disgruntled ex-customers who trash the brand for the rest of their lives.

It’s a big assignment. GM knows that. “Our dealers are empowered to address customer concerns on a case-by-case basis,” GM CEO Mary Barra says in a company video.

Sometimes, in the ebony hours of the night or after a prickly meeting with dealers, automakers may wonder if they really need these guys. In certain quarters, franchised dealers are seen as unnecessary middlemen.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks his upstart electric-vehicle company is perfectly capable of selling its cars without dealers getting a cut of the action.

But then a recall debacle occurs, and dealers suddenly are an automaker’s closest friends. Why? Because they rise to the occasion, handle edgy customers and stay loyal to a brand that’s battered.  

Toyota and its Lexus luxury division sought and got extraordinary dealer support a few years ago. That was when the brands were embroiled in a recall controversy stemming from sudden-acceleration allegations.

Many Toyota and Lexus owners at the time perceived their vehicles as safety risks. They panicked.

“People were saying, ‘Take my car back, my car is a killer,’” Chuck Yaeger, head of the Lexus customer-satisfaction department, said at an automotive conference in Los Angeles.

Toyota and Lexus depended on their dealers to get them get to shore. “Our dealer associates became our secret sauce,” Yaeger says. “Dealers made a commitment and did everything they could.”

Sure, the dealers had a vested interest in helping. But what they did was above and beyond. Now, it’s GM dealers’ turn to step up.

“We’re all trying to defuse the issue,” Steve Rayman, of Steve Rayman Chevrolet in metro Atlanta, tells WardsAuto.

Rick Alpern, general manager of Keyes Chevrolet in Van Nuys, CA, adds: “I haven’t heard of anyone who has been really upset, at least not at this dealership.”

Well, that could change. Some people with legal agendas are rubbing sticks together to get the public fired up. Trial lawyers are using the Internet to beckon prospective clients for class actions against GM. 

“Affirmative action by consumers and courts is essential to swiftly and completely eliminate the danger from these ignition switches before any more deaths and injuries occur,” litigator Elizabeth J. Cabraser says in a bid for clients.

GM should have done more early on when it faced growing evidence of faulty switches causing fatal accidents. Even GM acknowledges that. The company is pulling out all the stops now.

Lawsuits are inevitable. But please spare us the disingenuousness of saying we need trial attorneys to fix the switches. Dealerships will do that, and much more.

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