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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Toyota dealers work to repair trust

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Toyota dealers work to repair trust

Customer service efforts include towing, house calls

Amy Wilson

Automotive News -- February 8, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Dealers are front and center in what may be the ultimate test of Toyota's reputation for customer loyalty. And they are increasing their attention to customers in an attempt to repair that trust, now badly strained by Toyota's massive recalls.

Send technicians to customer homes to repair vehicles? Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota store in North Palm Beach, Fla., did that last week after customers were spooked by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's comment that they should not drive recalled vehicles. LaHood later retracted the comment.

Tow vehicles to the dealership if customers are afraid to drive? Larry Kull, president of Burns-Kull Auto Group in Vineland, N.J., is offering towing to customers who report suspicious pedal behavior.

Refund money to recent Toyota buyers if they want to return those vehicles and buy something else? No such requests at AutoNation Inc.'s 21 Toyota stores so far, but "We're open to discussion of doing whatever it takes to satisfy our customer," COO Michael Maroone told Automotive News.

The directive at AutoNation and many other Toyota retailers across the country: Do whatever it takes to restore trust.

"We see this as a defining moment for both Toyota and their retailers," Maroone said. "We're just trying to bend over backward."

Toyota helped dealerships last week with no-strings-attached payments based on store volume. The payments range from $7,500 to $75,000 per dealership.

AutoNation pledges to use its $650,000-plus to help take care of customers in "extraordinary" ways, Maroone said. He called the factory support "unprecedented" compared with other large industry recalls.

Dealerships are working extra hours, sometimes making plans for around-the-clock operation, to repair vehicles as soon as possible.

Kull said he increased his staff. Last week the main constraint to the long hours was availability of parts, but dealers said they expected larger supplies this week.

Customer repairs are being done by priority. Kull said he is first fixing any cars thought to be operating improperly.

AutoNation stores will slot the most concerned customers first. When there are lulls between customer appointments, the dealers said technicians will repair stock vehicles.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100208/RETAIL03/302089944/1078#ixzz0exOx3Tbt

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