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Are G.M.’s New Promises Feasible?

1 decade, 13 linked deaths, and 133 relevant cases finally prompt a recall

Today G.M. begins repairs to 2.6 million recalled vehicles. The car manufacturing giant promised customers that individual dealerships would repair each of these vehicles in a mere 30 minutes. In the mean time, G.M. maintains that the cars are “safe to drive” but cautions that “drivers should not operate the cars with keys attached to heavy key rings.” Apparently a heavy set of keys could still be enough to jolt the switch out of position, potentially causing the car to stall at high speeds.

G.M. said they will provide loaner cars to any customer who requests one while awaiting vehicle repairs. According to the testimony given by House Democrat Diana DeGette, the “switch indent plugger,” is to blame for these recalls. The part costs 57 cents and is only a half-inch long.

Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Chris Malone, a managing partner at consulting firm Fidelum Partners, said:

“The experience those customers have next in getting their ignition switches replaced by G.M. dealers can make those attitudes substantially better or worse […] G.M. has fumbled most of its opportunities to show that it’s a new-and-improved company with its handling of these recalls thus far. Will the recall experience customers have with dealers be substantially different? At this point, I’m not holding my breath.”

The article comments, “the repair phase needs to go flawlessly to ensure customer trust. Yet the repairs also give the auto maker a chance to interact with potential new customers. Many of the cars are more than 10 years old and in the hands of second owners.”

How G.M. carries out repairs will be imperative not only for building a new customer base but also for preserving the trust of its original consumers. While G.M. is making alluring claims of 30-minute repairs, and a total recall by October this year, it’s easy to wonder whether repairing approximately 87,000 vehicles per week for the next 6 months is really feasible. On top of other repair requests that dealerships regularly handle, as well as the possibility of greater demands for loaner vehicles (only 16,000 have been claimed thus far), G.M. will have to work very hard to keep on track with its promises.

G.M.’s workload is already steep.  On top of the 2.6 million recalled vehicles, 1.3 million more have been recalled for power steering issues.

But G.M.’s executives cannot slow down now–their customer loyalty is at stake. They’re already in the hole after news emerged last week that G.M. Chief Switch Engineer Ray DeGiorgio approved (but didn’t implement) a critical design change to vehicles’ switch indent pluggers in 2006. This information disputes his testimony in court a year ago, during deliberations for the Brooke Melton Case, in which he stated that he had not approved the change. It appears G.M. knew about the faulty switch for over a decade but failed to address it with a recall.  The result? 133 relevant cases and 13 linked deaths.

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