General Motors car and truck owners in Minnesota are bracing for long waits for repairs as dealers worry about sales and their reputations after the company this week issued its biggest recall yet.
Since February, GM has ramped up efforts to repair vehicles for problems in ignition switches and air bags tied to 61 crashes and 16 deaths.
Monday’s recall of 8.4 million vehicles brought GM’s total for the year to 29 million in North America, more than the 22 million recalls issued by all automakers last year. The Monday recall amounted to more than the 7.4 million vehicles GM sold in the U.S. from 2011 through 2013.
“Ridiculous number,” said Paul Rubin, owner of White Bear Lake Superstore Buick GMC.
In Minnesota, there are 67 dealerships scurrying to deal with GM’s recalls. In interviews this week, several said they’re doing what they can to mitigate customer concerns but acknowledge that it’s too early in the process to say there won’t be hiccups. Dealers said they will extend service hours, pay workers overtime and deal with possible parts delays. They also said customers must be prepared to wait.
“Our whole shop is stressed because of the amount of work,” Rubin said. His dealership usually gets customers in and out for repairs in a single day, but with all the new recalls, many will have to wait a few days or weeks to come in.
“It’s an unusual situation,” said George McGuire, owner of Shakopee Chevrolet. “We are in uncharted waters.”
His service staff was already working overtime because of the 3.2 million recalls GM announced in February and June. He said he expects overtime to continue but doesn’t know for how long. For one thing, GM hasn’t shipped parts to make the repairs that were announced on Monday.
GM spokesman Terry Rhadigan said that recall “announcements and letters will be going out to customers over the course of the next month” and that it will work with the dealers on getting parts out quickly. “In the service and parts department, we certainly understand if there is some frustration,” he said. “But I would say that we will take them on a case-by-case basis and resolve them.”
One difference in the latest recall: Drivers won’t be offered free car rentals during the repair process, Rhadigan said. It made that offer during the first wave of recalls in February.
So far, customers are exhibiting patience. Indeed, on Tuesday, GM beat expectations by reporting that its U.S. sales rose 1 percent in June. Analysts noted that GM is benefiting from a phenomenon experienced by other automakers in recent years in which customers bring their recalled vehicle in for service and wind up buying a new car entirely.
Following Monday’s announcement, Walser Automotive, one of the largest car dealers in Minnesota with GM stores in Bloomington, Roseville and Owatonna, prepared its call center in Bloomington for a possible onslaught of calls from upset customers. Instead, they received mostly polite questions, such as whether ignition switches would be repaired even for the vehicle’s fourth owner.
“It seems that as soon as the customer understands that they are going to get help and that it’s not going to cost them anything, they seem to relax,” said Doug Sprinthall, Walser sales manager.
That reaction contrasts with the more frantic activity when Toyota Motor Corp. recalled cars from 2009 to 2011 because of sudden acceleration issues.
“Customers are not all that fired up about this at all and I don’t know why that is. The Toyota recall a few years ago was really quite different,” Sprinthall said. “Maybe the customer is getting used to these recalls.”
Across the auto industry, 2014 has become the year of the recall. Last month, for example, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, BMW, Ford and GM Chrysler recalled 4 million U.S. cars worldwide because of possible air bag explosion and humidity problems.
“We may be getting lost among all these companies that now have recalls,” Sprinthall said. “Everyone is suddenly erring on the side of caution.”
Of the 29 million GM vehicles recalled this year, 17.1 million have been over ignition switches Some consumers say they don’t think the issues involved in the GM vehicles will put them in danger.
“I do not have a great worry at this point because of the odds [of a problem] … I think there is some hysteria over this,” said Maple Grove resident Jim Kessler, who drives a 2014 Impala that was among those recalled this week.
Rebecca Lindholm, a Minneapolis resident, added that the number of injuries and deaths are low compared to the number of cars sold. “I just can’t get excited about the statistics,” said Lindholm, whose 2009 Cadillac CTS was also recalled Monday. “I am not afraid to drive my car. But I will be calling the dealership and I will be getting it taken care of. I hope they have a plan in place. ”