Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In Fixing Recalled Cars, GM Dealers Hope To Wow Customers

Wendi Kunkel points out the key in the ignition on her 2010 Chevy Cobalt in Rockwall, Texas, in April. GM recalled millions of cars over a flaw in ignition switches that could cause the vehicles to shut off unexpectedly.
LM Otero
Wendi Kunkel points out the key in the ignition on her 2010 Chevy Cobalt in Rockwall, Texas, in April. GM recalled millions of cars over a flaw in ignition switches that could cause the vehicles to shut off unexpectedly.

Months after General Motors announced its big ignition switch recall, parts to fix the affected cars are finally arriving in greater numbers at dealerships. That recall was swiftly followed by dozens of other GM recalls for other problems.

The customers now flooding the service bays are presenting dealers both a challenge and an opportunity.

It's summer in Michigan, so there are plenty of other places Kyle Belanger would likely rather be. But on a recent day he's hanging out at DeNooyer Chevrolet, in Kalamazoo.

He's here because his 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt was recalled for a faulty ignition switch.

Belanger waited several weeks to get this appointment. He was never afraid to drive his Cobalt. He followed GM's instructions and took all the extra keys and items off his key ring. But his feelings about GM may have been affected by the recall.

"Maybe, a little bit," he says. "A little bit. My dad works for General Motors too, so I'll probably always buy GM cars. But it did ... just hearing about the deaths, ... that was kind of tragic."

This kind of uneasiness among customers means dealers aren't just repairing cars. They're repairing relationships with GM. Bill Garnett is the service manager here and says replacement parts are still not arriving as fast as he'd like.

That's a problem when customers call to schedule an appointment. "And then they find out the real good news that it's going to take us a month and a half or so to get the parts in," Garnett says. "Most people are very understanding of that. There may be only a few that maybe aren't."

GM has recalled a staggering 29 million vehicles in North America so far this year, including the ignition switch recall.

DeNooyer Chevrolet has hired extra staff. They block off Saturdays just for recall repairs. But at times, it's not enough. And it's not just GM that some people blame.

Garnett counsels his staff on dealing with frustrated customers, saying people come first — then the car.

"They could be very emotional about it, but it's not about you. It's not personal. You got to just allow it a little bit and help them get through it," he says.

Initial hopes that lots of drivers might trade in their recalled cars for new ones haven't materialized. Consumers wanting new cars and those driving older cars are often two different groups.

But General Manager Todd DeNooyer says revenue from car maintenance and repairs is significant. And at his store, customers can wait in luxury, watching flat-screen TVs while they wait — or check the Internet on the dealership's iPads. One of his waiting rooms even has a fireplace.

"So that's where we saw the greater opportunities — for them to be able to come use our facility, which has been upgraded," DeNooyer says. "It's got all the latest technology in the service department, and trained technicians to be able to work on their car. We were hoping to create a wow factor for that customer that maybe hadn't used a dealer before."

DeNooyer says months after the ignition switch recall, a new problem is emerging. The early panic is being replaced by complacency, so staff are spending more time rescheduling missed appointments.

But on the new-car front, sales are strong. Most customers ask about the recalls, but if they're ready to buy, they buy.

That seems to be holding true nationally. Jesse Toprak, an analyst with, says GM's haste to get all its recall problems dealt with seems to be working.

"Customers that are in the market for a new vehicle have the assumption that, well, GM can't afford to get another recall, so [the company] must be spending so much time making sure what they sell now is of top quality, that [customers] have no problems pulling the trigger for a GM car," he says.

Toprak says that may be why the expected sales slump hasn't occurred.

GM dealerships hope it won't — as government investigations and consumer lawsuits continue in the months ahead.

Copyright 2014 Michigan Radio

Corrected: August 27, 2014 at 9:00 PM PDT
The audio version of this story, as did a previous Web version, incorrectly says GM has recalled 29 million vehicles in the U.S. thus far this year. That figure refers to the number of GM cars recalled in all of North America. The number recalled in the U.S. this year is actually 26.7 million.
Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.