The much-anticipated recall of Mazda RX-8s to replace faulty rotary engines will be a mixed bag for dealers and owners.
There's the whole question of sincerity. Since the problem dates back to 2004 models -- as documented by owner and dealer complaints -- you have to wonder what took so long.
What did Mazda engineers know, and when did they know it?
You would think it's obvious when engine oil leaks are destroying a car's catalyst, especially since the integrity of engine seals has been an issue for rotary engines dating back to the days of Felix Wankel.
By the time Mazda's brass ruled that dealers wouldn't be marked down on customer-satisfaction surveys because of bellyaching by RX-8 owners, there was no alternative.
Still, Mazda execs seem to have responded marginally better than their counterparts at Toyota, who immediately blamed the customer for engine sludge problems that put 3.3 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles at risk for engine failure. Toyota extended engine warranties under certain circumstances, while Mazda will replace any engine that fails a vacuum test at the dealership.
Way to bond
Dealing with issues in a timely, forthright and equitable manner is a good way to bond with customers.
Remember when hundreds of early Saturn engines were ruined at the factory because of bad antifreeze? If the engine was bad, Saturn replaced the whole car. It became a case study -- as well as something of a legend -- for over-the-top customer relationships.
But face it, the RX-8 is not some milquetoast sedan. No, the RX-8 is a powerful, throbbing sports car that's propelled by the wondrous Wankel engine. RX-8s are owned and driven by enthusiasts, not by simple consumers who hate cars but like to be treated well at the dealership.
Here's the issue: Many enthusiasts, especially collectors, like to keep their cars original, making sure that all the numbers match. That pretty much is ruined if you start yanking engines and replacing them willy-nilly.
Worse, Mazda says it intends to rebuild the faulty engines and put them back in service.
Heartache on horizon
Can you imagine the heartache that will cause when collectors want to sell their cars or just prove their pedigrees?
The written descriptions saying that the numbers match will need an asterisk, just like the home-run totals of Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds.
Mazda may find out that it's one thing to want to make things right with your owners and quite another to accomplish it.
After all, even RX-8 drivers know which road is paved with good intentions.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]