DETROIT - General Motors will eliminate a bottleneck that forces dealers to spend hours on computers trying to order vehicle options.
In June, GM will scrap its online first-come method of allocating hard-to-get options.
Instead, the company will allocate equipment based on a dealership's sales and inventory.
'We are trying to put in place a system that is a little more rational,' said Bob Muiter, GM's director of distribution for vehicle sales, service and maintenance. The new system 'does not require dealers to rush to the computer and try to be the first one in.'
The system - part of the Vehicle Order Management System, or VOMS - has been likened by some frustrated dealers to a commodity futures trading pit.
Every Tuesday at noon, dealers log on to GM's computer system to request options and trim for vehicles previously ordered from the factory. Dealers often spend hours at a time trying to order the hot colors, chrome wheels or sunroofs that customers want.
Dealers also struggle to change orders for one model - say, a two-wheel-drive pickup - to a more desirable model, such as a four-wheel-drive truck.
For example, last Tuesday, March 23, Chevrolet dealer John Wolf spent 41/2 hours online trying to make changes in his vehicle orders. After three tries, Wolf, who runs a dealership in Belvidere, Ill., changed his order for an Express LS cargo van to a passenger van.
But he had no success swapping a half-ton Silverado pickup for a three-quarter-ton truck.
'I think they are trying,' said Wolf of GM's efforts to fix the system. 'It's a huge system, and you've got a lot of dealers trying to get the same thing.'
Wolf worries that the new equipment allocation system might favor large dealerships over small ones. But GM's Muiter says the new system will not tilt in favor of big dealerships.
Muiter also notes that GM has made several other significant changes to help dealers. Perhaps most important, dealers no longer must order vehicles 90 days in advance. That waiting period has been cut to 60 days.
Other changes in the works:
An electronic bulletin board that lets dealers trade vehicles that have been ordered but not yet delivered. Previously, GM had limited the bulletin board's use to vehicles in short supply, such as sport-utilities or full-sized pickups.
Dealers soon will be able to trade all vehicles on the bulletin board.
A simplified equipment order form for dealers. Previously, GM computers determined how to equip a car or truck after a dealer ordered the vehicle. If the dealer was dissatisfied, he or she had to reorder each option separately. Now, GM will offer other equipment packages in addition to the one chosen by computer.
However, all these changes will not eliminate one chronic irritant: Dealers still have trouble filling orders for 'sold' vehicles.
Jon Book, owner of Book Chevrolet-Buick in Nutley, N.J., lost two customers who ordered a pair of full-sized extended-cab pickups last October. The customers were willing to settle for the old C/K pickups rather than the hot-selling Silverado. Nevertheless, Book was unable to deliver the trucks.
'I had to give them their money back in February,' Book recalled. 'They went down the street and bought two Ford pickups off the lot. And now they want to buy two more. Not only did GM lose four sales, but Ford gained four sales.'
Other dealers have encountered similar problems, GM's Muiter notes. The automaker is willing to tinker with the system to identify 'sold' orders more quickly.
But GM will continue to allocate hot-selling models based on its turn-and-earn system. That means there will be winners and losers.
'There is a lot of frustration among dealers that they are not getting as many trucks as they like,' Muiter said. 'But I don't believe that's a VOMS issue. It's a supply-and-demand issue. If a dealer wants 20 pickups and gets only 10, he's going to be frustrated.'