General Motors will never regain market share if its dealers can't order cars and trucks. Last year, the company introduced the Vehicle Order Management System, a computerized method of handling dealer orders. In the bad old days, GM too often built vehicles nobody wanted, then ladled out big rebates to customers so reluctant dealers could sell them. The new system is supposed to cure GM of that habit.
After a dealer decides how many vehicles to order, GM's computers figure out which options and trim are most popular in that market. But the computers are not pleasing the dealers. Every week, dealers clog GM's computer system, demanding changes in color, trim, options - you name it. Dealers say VOMS has become an online futures trading pit, as they spend many hours scrambling to order the right equipment.
The good news is that Roy Roberts, Darwin Clark and other GM officials aren't trying to bury the problem. The new GM admits it has a problem and is taking steps to fix it.
The company will increase the capacity of its computers, reduce vehicle delivery times from 90 days to 60 and will fill orders for pre-sold vehicles more quickly. If GM delivers, those steps should eliminate the system's worst glitches. But dealers' headaches will never disappear entirely.
GM is scrambling to build more pickups and sport-utilities while its cars collect dust on dealership lots. Like every automaker, GM dreams of creating a true 'pull' system, in which dealer orders determine what the assembly plants will build. Like most other automakers, GM is still a long way from manufacturing just what the market demands. The ordering system alone can't fix that.