GM gets creative to spur recall repairs – USA TODAY
After the effort that General Motors went through to quickly produce replacement ignition switches for millions of cars under recall, their hasty manufacture may turn out to be the easy part.
The harder part seems to be luring owners into dealerships to get their cars fixed.
Though GM says it met its October target of having replacement parts ready for the 1.96 million recalled cars believed still to be on U.S. highways, its efforts to bring customers to dealers haven’t been as fruitful. Only 55.7% of owners have had the repairs done as of Nov. 20, leaving 833,633 to be fixed in the U.S, according to GM.
An initial flood of customers trying to get recalled cars repaired has dwindled to a trickle and many customers who made appointments blew them off when it came to getting the switches installed — forcing GM to get creative.
After barraging customers with letters and e-mails, GM has gone beyond traditional communications to try to reach owners through Facebook and online Roku games. Also some of its dealers have been staying open with extended hours to do the repairs so customers don’t have to take time off from work. And GM also is trying a carrot: a $25 gift card for owners who bring recalled cars to dealerships by Jan. 1.
Even GM’s critics say the gift-card move — just in time for the holiday season — will help. “Smart move,” says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “It’s a lot cheaper and better to give $25 to a million consumers to get a recall done than to pay a $25 million judgment on a recalled vehicle that killed a consumer because it wasn’t fixed.”
GM says it will continue to work hard, and be creative, in finding owners and getting them to bring in their cars.
“We worked really hard to get the parts manufactured,” says Megan Stooke, general director of global marketing services for General Motors. Now, GM “is really dialing up our efforts to reach them.”
It’s not as if the owners don’t know about the need. “We know 99% are aware” of the recall, Stooke says.
They just aren’t coming in, possibly because the issue is fading from the limelight — recall publicity has shifted to Takata’s exploding air bags, mostly on foreign brands.
Yet the potential danger becomes more apparent by the week as the death count due to the switches, based on settlement totals put out by GM’s independent compensation administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, now totals 35, far above the 13 that GM originally linked to the defect. The faulty switches can move to the “accessory” while the car is being driven, shutting off the car’s air bags, power steering and brakes.
Faced with such large numbers still to get in, GM says it has been focusing its efforts on the five metro areas where registration data indicate the highest concentrations of the Saturn Ion, Chevrolet Cobalt and other older models under recall: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.
GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney says there is a special call center to reach these owners and since many are believed to be Latino, Spanish-language capability has been a big part of it.
The call center also specializes in reaching older customers who may be confused about what they need to do. “We can really handhold them through the process,” says Stooke.
To reach customers through Facebook, GM has tried to match Facebook pages against its owner data. GM has been advertising against Roku games online as well.
“We’re trying to take a 360-degree approach,” Stooke says. “We’ve been very active about surrounding the customer in every way.”
Some dealers have been aggressive in trying to fix recalled cars, offering loaners or extended hours.
“We did a couple Saturdays where we set up appointments,” says Mike Sutton, the fixed operations director at Mac Haik Chevrolet in Houston.
Sutton says that at first, the number of available switches was so few that customers had to wait for them. But then as the switches arrived, customer traffic slowed.
Now, Sutton says he has switches on the shelves for immediate installation. “We can meet that demand today,” he says.