GM dealer: 'DEFCON 5' when recalled cars brought in

Dealers see parts trickle in for recall repairs

GM dealer: 'DEFCON 5' when recalled cars brought in

GM identified the parts to be replaced in a statement on Thursday.
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DETROIT -- Most General Motors dealers continue to wait as parts that were expected to arrive this week to repair faulty ignitions on millions of recalled small cars only trickle in.

The wait is disruptive to business, some dealers said today. They are working hard to keep customers informed and patient with the repair process, they said, adding that when the parts do arrive, service shops and technicians stand ready.

“It’s DEFCON 5 when one of those repairs comes in,” said Lynn Thompson, co-owner of Thompson Buick-GMC-Cadillac in Springfield, Mo. “It’s top-level priority. Technicians will finish whatever job they are doing, and that recall repair will be the next vehicle fixed. These are priority fixes for us.”

Kevin Kelly, a spokesman for GM, said the parts have started shipping to dealers and “they should be arriving today.”

“Over coming weeks and months, parts availability will improve,” Kelly wrote in an email to Automotive News.

Kelly said GM expects dealers will complete the repairs on the affected vehicles no later than October.

No deliveries

The faulty ignition switch is blamed for 13 deaths. In addition to replacing the ignition switches on 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars from the 2003-11 model years, dealerships also will be instructed to install new ignition lock cylinders.

Earlier this week, Detroit-area dealer Scott LaRiche had about a dozen cars grounded with customers in rental cars as they awaited parts for the repairs. The number of grounded cars now has climbed to 22. LaRiche still has not received any parts.

“We’re hoping early next week we’ll get them and we can start getting the repairs done ASAP,” said LaRiche. “Everybody that I know of has not received any parts yet.”

LaRiche, of Lou LaRiche Chevrolet, was president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association last year.

Likewise, no dealers in New Jersey have reported receiving their GM parts yet, said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

Thrilled for three

Dealer Greg Cole is one of the lucky few.

Early this morning, a delivery truck arrived at his Athens Chevrolet store in Georgia with three parts for ignition switch repairs. He has two customers’ cars grounded, which he will repair first, he said. The three parts are not nearly enough to complete the “hundreds” of customers waiting for the repair, but he was happy anyhow.

“I’m pretty thrilled we got three of them this morning,” said Cole. “I view that as a good sign that I’ve got a start. I’m sure they’ll flow in regularly now.”

Cole’s euphoria was quelled later in the day when his parts manager informed him the parts kits were incomplete and he could not yet make the repairs. Cole is hopeful he will get the complete kits in the next few days.

Cole has not allocated additional service staff yet for the work, but he will dedicate a big part of his service operations to the repairs as the parts become more available, he said.

‘Get it handled’

“It’s important to us that we get it handled,” Cole said. “We’ve been meeting every other day to work on our plans to handle the customers as they come in -- making sure we have vehicles for them, that we schedule them on a timely manner so we don’t have six of them show up and I only have capabilities to do three of them.”

Dealer John McEleney received a single part today at his store, McEleney Chevrolet, in Clinton, Iowa. He has three customers’ cars waiting on his lot for repairs.

“We only got one part, but we’re hopeful of that pattern continuing,” McEleney said. “I would assume on Monday or Tuesday we’re going to get a more even flow of them.”

Jim Stutzman Chevrolet Cadillac Co. in Winchester, Va., has 20 parked cars on his lot with the owners in rental cars awaiting repairs, said Jim Stutzman. He was disappointed when his shipment from GM did not include his ignition switch repair parts.

‘Holding pattern’

“I don’t know if we’ll get anything later in the day. We get stuff in and out all day long, but we’re still in a holding pattern,” Stutzman said.

GM has not given him or other dealers any specific information on when their parts will be delivered, even for those dealers who have grounded vehicles. Those with grounded vehicles are supposed to be a priority, Stutzman and other dealers said.

GM’s Kelly said GM does make some Saturday shipments, but he said he does not “know specifics on shipping for each dealer” or region.

That leaves Stutzman and other dealers working to keep customers at ease.

“Some are just wondering, ‘What’s going on and is this something I really need to be concerned about?’ We’re just easing their concerns,” Stutzman said. “Others who are adamant they are afraid to drive their vehicle, we’re bringing them in and putting them in a rental and who knows maybe they’ll like a Cruise or a Malibu” and buy a new car.

Operational interruption

Stutzman said the recall has had an impact on business, albeit minor.

“Let’s face it, it certainly disrupts the normal flow of operations,” Stutzman said.

He has two Cobalt small cars in his used-car fleet he cannot sell until they’ve been repaired, and customers’ cars will be repaired before those awaiting sale.

“Is it our Achilles heel and will it ruin our month? No, but it does disrupt our service,” Stutzman said.

McEleney, in Iowa, said he has about 300 new and used vehicles in stock. There are 10 of them he cannot sell until he can make repairs.

“I suppose it could delay a sale or cause someone to switch cars, but it hasn’t been a big impact so far,” McEleney said. “The publicity hasn’t been great with GM on the front page every day, though.”

But, he added, customers haven’t said anything derogatory or been emotional about it. He said, “Most people are good about accepting it and taking it in stride.”

For Cole, receiving his parts means it is his time to shine as a GM dealer, he said.

“We’re excited to see the arrival of the parts. I’m going to go watch the first one get done,” said Cole. “It’s an opportunity for us to put our game plan together, that we can handle the customer properly and give them as good of an experience as we can.”

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter


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