GM dealers scramble to provide recall loaners – USA TODAY

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014

All Steve Isola wanted was to take up General Motors on its offer of a free rental car until the automaker could make recall repairs on his 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt. But neither his local dealer nor GM has been able to give him one.

GM says it’s had 9,000 requests such as Isola’s, and it intends that they all be honored. But sometimes the best intentions don’t mesh with practical reality.

Dwayne Haapanen, general manager at Kolar Chevrolet in Hermantown, Minn., near Duluth, says customers have parked nine of the recalled models at the dealership, refusing to drive them until they are fixed.

But it’s taken awhile to get rental cars for Isola and three other customers; Haapanen believes he’ll have them all “squared away” by Thursday. “There’s been a bit of a struggle finding the cars. I burned up all my loaner fleet, and we’ve been renting from Enterprise — and now they are out of cars.”

Such are the rough edges of General Motors’ recall of 1.62 million cars worldwide that need new ignition switches installed to prevent the kinds of accidents blamed for 12 deaths. The switches can jostle out of the “run” position into “accessory,” shutting off the engine and killing power to the air bags and other safety systems.

GM CEO Mary Barra told a group of reporters in Detroit on March 18 that GM has told dealers to give any owner of a recalled model a free loaner vehicle if requested. Owners don’t have to prove their switches are faulty or that they’ve been in accidents to qualify, GM says.

“Yes. Yes!” GM global product development chief Mark Reuss said, pounding the table for emphasis during the session, when asked if GM is paying all the costs of loaner or rental cars for dealers to furnish.

In a rare move, GM even told dealers they can break the rule of using only GM rental cars, if need be, to supply all owners. It also said it is making special arrangements for college-age customers who might otherwise have trouble renting, and has enlisted multiple rental car agencies for the loaners.

Isola was in a jam. His daughters won’t let their kids ride in his Cobalt. And when he called the GM recall hotline, no one would help. He says he got really “ticked off” when the representative denied him a rental car, saying GM “can’t provide that to everyone.”

He says he replied: “I’m not everybody. I’m a Cobalt owner with a safety concern. I am not some crackpot.”

Despite the loaner scramble, Haapanen says he’s impressed by the steps GM has taken. “I am encouraged GM is stepping up right from Day One.”

Still, it has taken more than saying it should be so.

GM has created a dedicated hotline for recall questions and has added staffing and is providing training, hoping to prevent long waits for callers — and wrong answers, such as Isola initially got.

GM says dealers should have the first batch of new switches April 7 to begin recall repairs — but that will be just 60,000 of them. Barra told reporters that the company has an October goal for completing the job.

“It’s a mixed bag,” says Aaron Jacoby, who specializes in dealer issues as head of the automotive practice of Arent Fox, a law firm. “It’s not that dealers are entirely unhappy there is a GM recall,” he says, because it’s a chance to woo new patrons when they bring in their cars for recall repairs, and they will make money doing the recall work. But they also don’t want disappointed customers whose expectations exceed the reality of the recall pace.

Some dealers aren’t having problems. At Len Lyall Chevrolet in Aurora, Colo., for instance, General Manager Dan Johnson says he’s had only one request for a rental car. But he’s had to put two of the used cars in his inventory — a Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, both on the recall list — “out back” until recall repairs are complete.

GM spokesman Greg Martin says, “Dealers should ensure all recall repairs are performed on a vehicle before it is loaned, rented or sold,” as Lyall Chevrolet is doing, to be sure the temporary vehicles aren’t themselves under recall.

“We will work overtime,” Johnson pledges. “We will do what we need to do” — and if he can throw in a free oil change to keep owners of recalled models coming back, or “trade for a few cars,” so much the better.

GM and federal safety officials both emphasize that owners should detach the ignition key from their key rings and use the key by itself. Heavy key rings make it easier for the ignition switch to malfunction.

Most of the recalled vehicles — 1.37 million — are in the U.S. They are:

  • 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2007 Pontiac G5
  • 2003-07 Saturn Ion
  • 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2007 Saturn Sky.

Hotline numbers for owners to call for recall information:

  • Chevrolet: 800-222-1020
  • Pontiac: 800-762-2737
  • Saturn: 800-553-6000

Contributing: James R. Healey


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