I keep reading over and over, most recently in today’s Automotive News, that GM needs to tell the American public that it “is not the company that screwed them in 1978.” The claim: the cars that turned millions of people away from GM were decades ago, and that GM is unfairly being punished for the sins of long-retired executives and employees.
As much as I’d like to see GM recover, this annoys me. I tend to get annoyed when people try to make something true by repeating it over and over. They read it somewhere, so it must be true, right?
The reality: GM’s cars are much better than they were, but they often aren’t as good as they should be. Based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, the oft-mentioned 2008 Chevrolet Malibu was the exception, not the rule, among GM’s recent new product launches. The 2007 Aura, the 2007 Lambdas, the 2008 VUE, and the 2008 CTS all launched with two to three times the average repair frequency.
This said, an extra problem or two in the first year or three isn’t what scares away potential buyers. Based on the emails I receive, many people want to know how a car will hold up for years after the warranty ends. So neither IQS nor VDS is going to carry much weight with them.
In the long-term, if GM’s cars hold up then its reputation will improve. But this could take a decade or more.
In the interim, GM needs to more firmly and comprehensively stand behind its products, to remove risk from buyers’ minds. As I’ve suggested before, they could do this by stating that they’ll cover the cost of any common problem for the first 100,000 or even 120,000 miles. The “old GM” wasn’t just a matter of the number of problems the cars had. How the company treated owners with car problems was at least as significant. Currently customer assistance is provided out of warranty on a seemingly arbitrary case-by-case basis. This does nothing to instill potential buyers with confidence in the company.
GM isn’t unusual in this regard–this sort of “customer care” is the industry norm. But GM needs buyers more than other car companies do. If GM truly is a different company now, providing clearly defined, comprehensive customer care would be a good way to prove this to the car buying public. Talk alone shouldn’t be sufficiently convincing, and probably won’t be.
GM is asking car buyers to wager that its quality has improved. But is GM willing to put its (U.S. government-provided) money where its mouth is, and bet on itself?