Mark Reuss' use of Facebook to reinstate rejected dealerships suggests that maybe General Motors Co. really does have a new face in North America.
It also suggests that GM's plan to reinstate 661 rejected showrooms may swell far beyond that number.
Reuss, president of GM North America, responded this month to a Facebook message from a rejected Ohio dealer who wanted to be reinstated -- and quickly cleared up confusion that had festered for days.
An employee at Marhofer Chevrolet, Sales Manager Chris Moorhead, had heard Reuss invite Facebook messages from dealers during a March 5 conference call announcing the reinstatement plan.
Moorhead took Reuss at his word after Marhofer Chevrolet, in the Akron area, was first told it would be reinstated and then was informed it would not be.
"Something just not right here and I would love to know what is going on," Moorhead wrote the evening of March 8, according to the trail of Facebook messages he provided.
Four minutes later, Reuss responded: "Let me find out tomorrow."
Early the next morning, around 7 a.m., Reuss wrote: "I just checked and your dealership is and should have received a letter of intent to be reinstated."
When Moorhead repeated that the dealership was told just days before that it was not being reinstated, Reuss said he would check again.
Half an hour later, at 8:31, Reuss wrote: "Trust me dude you guys are in! Celebrate!"
And celebrate Marhofer Chevrolet employees did -- even after getting a subsequent call from a GM manager telling them again they would not be reinstated, said Ron Marhofer, owner of the 91-year-old family dealership.
"I'm thrilled to death with what I've seen so far," Marhofer, 64, said in an interview. "I think we've got a really good guy in the leadership of this company that understands the importance of people."
But Marhofer Chevrolet isn't the only dealership getting conflicting messages from GM.
A couple of dealer lawyers said some of their clients had been told they would be getting letters of intent for reinstatement but instead got letters offering settlement talks.
GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney declined to comment on the confusion, but perhaps a clue can be found in Reuss' Facebook apology to Marhofer Chevrolet.
"Lots of cases to handle -- no excuse though," he wrote on March 9.
GM sent most of its 661 letters of intent March 11. Some still were being hand-delivered last week, Carney said.
The vast majority of recipients are prepared to sign, a half-dozen dealer lawyers said.
A large chunk of the 499 other rejected GM dealerships that have filed for arbitration also have reached out to the company -- including to Reuss himself -- and received encouraging responses that have led to active talks.
In other cases, GM has initiated discussions that are ongoing, the lawyers said.
"Those talks are going well in several instances," said lawyer Michael Flanagan of Sacramento, Calif. Ten of Flanagan's 17 arbitration clients are in settlement talks with GM.
Those settlement talks are focusing on reinstatement with certain conditions attached or on compensation in lieu of reinstatement, a half-dozen lawyers said.
Among the conditions for reinstatement that are under discussion, the lawyers said:
-- Facility renovations or relocations paid for by the dealership.
-- Separate showrooms for GM and non-GM brands or for GM brands with different markets, such as Cadillac and Buick.
-- Hitting a sales target by a certain date or surrendering the franchise if they don't.
-- Giving up the franchise of one of two GM brands in a dualed dealership.
In other cases, cash payments are being offered to some dealerships in markets that already have been filled by other showrooms, said Leonard Bellavia, a Mineola, N.Y., lawyer.
The cash being offered is "meaningful," he said.
Bellavia said he is pressing GM to try to complete settlement offers in a week or two so dealerships will have the time to pursue arbitration if they are dissatisfied with the package.
About 1,160 of the 2,000 GM dealerships targeted to lose at least one franchise in October are seeking reinstatement through arbitration.