How committed is the new GM to customer service? It's failing one early test
Saab owners have reason to fret. So far, General Motors is not doing all it can or should for them.
The Swedish car company was off-loaded as part of GM's 2009 government-structured bankruptcy.
It was sold to a Dutch company in January 2010, but the new owners didn't have enough money to keep it going. Saab stopped making new cars last spring, and it's now in bankruptcy where liquidation looms.
Left in its wake are hundreds of thousands of Saab owners wondering where and how their cars will be serviced and repaired. What will happen to outstanding warranties? Will replacement parts be available?
Why should we care how GM treats Saab owners left in the lurch by Saab's collapse?
Because GM's response will reveal a lot about the reorganized car company's loyalty to the millions of us who drive its vehicles. I see this as an intriguing test of how seriously the post-bankruptcy GM takes customer service.
For GM, Saab is like that adult child you think you are rid of but who suddenly moves back to find his room is now a home gym. Like a parent faced with that adult child returning home, GM has at least a moral responsibility to do all it can to help.
GM did, after all, allow Saab to nearly wither away under its watch and then put the final nail in its coffin by refusing to license the Saab technology it still controls to the Chinese company that was willing to buy the automaker out of bankruptcy and keep it going.
GM could be a white knight riding in to save those Saab owners, but so far it hasn't really stepped up.
Although GM appears to be doing what it must to satisfy the minimum expected of it in supporting customers who purchased their Saabs before 2010, the Saab owners I have talked to are rightfully worried.
In early January, I spoke with Jim Cain, the GM spokesperson for all issues surrounding the Saab bankruptcy. He was emphatic about GM continuing to support owners of Saabs purchased before 2010 but was vague on details.
Here's what he said, "We have a very specific obligation to customers who bought Saabs when GM owned the company ... as things evolve, we will adapt."
GM will continue reimbursing dealers for warranty work on the Saabs it sold, only now it is doing so directly to those dealers rather than through Saab.
GM is not, however, establishing an official Saab service network within any of its divisions, such as Chevrolet, to pick up the service work Saab dealerships now perform.
That begs the question, where will Saabs be serviced once there is no longer a Saab dealer network?
Cain didn't have an answer, indicating that the issue was part of the evolve-and-adapt strategy. He did provide the hot-line number for owners looking for a service facility: 1-855-880-0808.
According to Cain, a steady supply of parts shouldn't be a problem because Saab's parts division wasn't included in the bankruptcy and remains profitable. However, there are no guarantees.
As of now, the 10,000 or so owners who purchased Saabs in 2010 and 2011 are left high and dry. Their warranties are suspended.
Those who purchased their Saab from GM are marginally better off -- at least as far as warranties go -- but GM can and should do more.
GM could foster a lot of good will, retaining some of those Saab customers, by stepping up and establishing a service network, ensuring the uninterrupted flow of parts and maybe even providing the Saabs sold after 2009 with some sort of limited warranty.
Customers who purchased a Saab from GM did so expecting GM's full and unqualified support.
Saab's bankruptcy is a character-defining issue for GM. So far it's not covering itself in glory.