LAS VEGAS -- If this year is anything like last year, U.S. automakers will be mailing millions of official invitations to consumers to visit their local dealerships.
Welcome to the era of the vehicle safety recall cashbox.
The volcanic eruption in the number of safety recalls is a golden opportunity for car dealers to make money, retailers and vendors say.
"It's a chance to bring customers into the showroom who probably haven't been in for a few years," observes Mark Thimmig, an industry entrepreneur and investor who believes auto companies can zero in on recall business.
"Vehicle safety is obviously the primary issue here," he acknowledges. "But there is also potential business."
Dave Bellando, service and parts director for Sullivan Brothers Toyota in Kingston, Mass., says that after the dealership created an in-house "recall department," service business jumped. The department focuses on owners of recalled models, encouraging them to come get their problems fixed and giving them a little special courtesy when they arrive.
In its first four months of operation, the effort gave the store a $77,000 uplift in service revenues, Bellando says -- on top of more than $300,000 worth of factory warranty work to fix the recall bugs.
In addition, 81 of Sullivan's recall customers decided to buy new vehicles when they came in.
"This is for real," Bellando told Automotive News. "It's working well for us."