DETROIT -- General Motors' expansion of free maintenance across its 2014 Chevrolet, Buick and GMC lineups aims to draw more customers to the showroom -- and to keep them coming back to the service drive.
Buyers of nearly all 2014 vehicles will get free oil and filter changes, tire rotations and 27-point inspections for two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. GM recently began offering the same deal on its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and offers a more extensive free-maintenance program for Cadillac.
GM CEO Dan Akerson, who announced the program last week at the company's annual shareholders' meeting, said the move is intended to "forge even stronger relationships" between GM and its customers.
Dealers say they can use the inclusion of scheduled maintenance as a closing tool and can highlight the lower cost of ownership, which has been the theme of GM's recent marketing for its pickups.
The maintenance offer also could improve the perception of GM brands and ultimately help improve residual vales, says Eric Lyman, vice president of residual values for ALG, which sets such values for the industry.
"It says, 'We stand behind our product,'" Lyman says. "I view it as also a replacement for a traditional incentive."
A GM spokesman said the program covers "virtually all" models sold at retail, with the possible exception of a few low-volume, high-performance cars. It includes as many as four service visits over the covered period and is transferable to subsequent owners.
Free-maintenance programs are relatively common among luxury brands. Mainstream brands increasingly are offering them as a customer retention tool that gets customers in the habit of regularly returning to the dealership for service. Toyota and Volkswagen have offered free maintenance across their U.S. lineups for a few years.
GM is working on other fronts to improve customer loyalty to its brands. For instance, it has been putting its dealers through retention training programs with Walt Disney Co., and it is spending billions of dollars to help about 90 percent of its 4,400 dealerships with extensive renovations.
Survey results released last week by research firm R.L. Polk & Co. show all four GM brands had above-industry-average gains in U.S. owner loyalty during the first quarter. Cadillac finished second in the survey with an 8 percentage-point gain over the same quarter last year, with 47 percent of Cadillac buyers returning to the brand, Polk said.
But Chevrolet, at 56 percent, was the only GM brand with a loyalty rate that exceeded the industry average of 52 percent. Ford is No. 1 at 65 percent, Polk said.
A 1-percentage-point increase in customer loyalty translates into an additional $700 million in revenue for GM, a company spokesman says.
Dealers say the programs help their service departments with loyalty, too, deterring some customers from defecting to quick-lube shops. But some dealers complain that GM doesn't reimburse them for the services as much they charge on their own.
For instance, GM reimburses dealerships about $35 for an oil change and tire rotation, dealers say. That's on the low end of typical customer-pay rates, which can run as high as $60, dealers say.
Jim Henry contributed to this report