SAN FRANCISCO - General Motors says it will fix the computer system dealers use to order new vehicles, following widespread complaints that it is riddled with glitches.
In a meeting with dealers last week at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco, GM executives acknowledged problems caused by its Vehicle Ordering Management System. They promised to speed up and simplify the process, and prevent bottlenecks that occur when dealers change their orders.
Although many dealers remain skeptical, GM's forthrightness mollified some of them.
'The first thing they did was acknowledge that VOMS is flawed,' said Phillip Hartz, vice president of field operations for UnitedAuto Inc. in New York. 'Dealers are looking for change. At least GM is acknowledging the problems and is trying to address them.'
The Vehicle Ordering Management System, which was introduced last year, required dealers to order new vehicles 90 days in advance. GM's computer system chooses each vehicle's equipment levels but allows dealers to change those orders.
To minimize confusion, GM phased in its five brand divisions one by one during the year. Chevrolet was last, going online in December. According to dealers, the influx of Chevrolet dealers caused gridlock.
GM will shorten the waiting period for new vehicles to 60 days, effective immediately.
GM also will overhaul its computerized system for selecting equipment and trim levels for vehicles.
Under the current system, GM computers determine what options are popular in each dealer's area. However, dissatisfied dealers are changing the options on 88 percent of vehicles ordered. Huge bottlenecks on the computer system are created when dealers flood the computer system with change orders.
GM executives say the biggest problems occurred with new models introduced last year. As a result of the UAW strikes last summer, these vehicles have been on the market only a short time.
With only a few vehicles sold, the automaker's computers have not collected sufficient data on customer preferences.
As more vehicles are sold, GM's computers will have more success determining consumer buying trends. And when that happens, dealers will need to change fewer orders.
TURN AND EARN
GM also will set a higher priority on filling orders for 'sold' vehicles. Dealers frequently complain that they have trouble getting GM to fill orders for vehicles that customers already have ordered.
GM will not abandon its traditional 'turn and earn' system for allocating new cars and trucks to dealers. But the company says it is willing to tinker with the system to identify 'sold' orders more quickly.
GM will never solve this dilemma entirely, said John Middlebrook, GM's vice president of marketing. 'We don't have enough capacity to meet demand right now,' he said. 'It frustrates dealers, obviously.'
Despite GM's efforts, some dealers predict it will take months to fix the computer system. Until then, dealers will have to muddle through, said Jerome Holz, owner of Holz Motors Inc., an Oldsmobile store in Hales Corners, Wis.
Said Holz: 'What choice do we have but to get with the program?'
Staff Reporter Frank S. Washington contributed to this report