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Social Anatomy of the GM Recall
Posted on April 25th 2014
As General Motors rolled its new Corvette Z06 into the International Auto Show last week last week, CEO Mary Barra seemed for a moment off the “recall” hot seat with the unveiling of the Z hot wheels. But as the public spotlight of social media continues to reveal, in the consumer mindset GM’s negligence and protracted ignition switch recall cannot be deflected by glitz and glam.
Lest it be lost on GM, social CRM today is all about transparency, authenticity and public accountability—the holy grail of consumer loyalty and trust. A sentiment not lost in this GM Facebook post: GM is like a cockroach when the lights are on, no where to be found (not posting the usual garbage as often nowadays in light of investigation for defects) so now with debut of the worthless, plastic body, pushrod engine Corvette the cockroach is seeing the momentary opportunity to come out of the hole again!
But GM’s conspicuous early withdrawal from social engagement with customers on Facebook is telling of its obtuse, unapologetic stance, an attitude reinforced by its hardline legal maneuvers to blame product safety secrecy on the old pre-Chapter 11 GM. It reads: “You and your safety and well-being are at the center of everything we do. With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide for contacting us with questions about the Ignition Switch Recall.”
The defective ignition switch recall includes over 1.6 million vehicles from several GM models rolled out in the last dozen years: Saturn Ions, Chevy Cobalts, Pontiac Solstice, Pontiac G-5, and Saturn Sky. And this year, another 3 million GM vehicles have been recalled for unrelated defects.
The NetBase emotions cloud below reveals storm clouds on the horizon in the extent of public anger since the February recall. Smart companies know that social listening is the best early warning practice to detect, mitigate or avert a crisis altogether. So, why wasn’t GM listening? Or did it simply turn a deaf ear to churning public sentiment?
First quarter GM profits have fallen 88%, as sentiment has steadily plunged to an abysmal -60%, as we see in the NetBase social media listening summary chart below.
General Motors’ has taken a hardline legal posture, requesting immunity from consumer lawsuits resulting from damages traceable to vehicle defects under Old GM. However, the original bankruptcy judge in 2009 already required a consumer protection provision be written in, holding the new General Motors liable for personal injury and death caused by defective vehicles manufactured by Old GM. New GM’s recent filing with the same court is an obvious attempt to be held harmless for the least amount of personal injury and deaths, in hopes the court will allow it in one broad stroke to remain legally harmless from Old GM faults. Critically, however, the GM stance sends an unambiguous public message it intends to play hardball with consumer claims.
Despite the token GM “scapegoat” layoffs initiated by Mary Barra as she announced her new quality assurance reorg plan, the fact remains that Old GM cultural heritage includes Barra herself. As one post noted: “Notorious GM culture is the villain.”
GM documents unearthed at Senate investigatory hearings reveal that Barra, who oversaw product development at Old GM, was made aware and participated in conversations with engineering teams who raised concerns about the faulty ignition switches, over a decade ago. People are simply not accepting the cover up: “At the very least that is involuntary manslaughter at the very most covering a crime after the fact.”
As the investigation continues, more evidence of GM’s nefarious secretive culture was revealed last week when government documents disclosed that despite getting thousands of Saturn Ion consumer complaints and more than 30,000 warranty repair claims, GM waited years to issue a recall.
Consumer outrage has been triggered by revelations disclosed at the hearings that GM was aware of the potential fatal product defect a dozen years ago, yet did not issue a recall until last February. Corporate ineptitude? Avarice? Arrogance? Policy? One answer might be that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) was “unwittingly” complicit in its lack of oversight and enforcement, in effect delaying the recall from happening when the problem was first detected.
Sound like an absence of Federal oversight? As Consumerist discloses, based on Bloomberg research, the NHTSA actually has only 51 employees, of whom about 28 are investigators. This boils down to a ratio of about 8.6 million cars on the road for every NHTSA defect investigator.
In other words, more reliable than NHTSA or industry “self oversight,” the best recourse for drivers today is to engage in social media to force the hand behind the corporate steering wheel. Social listening is where the rubber now hits the road. Only a quantum General Motors culture shift will propel it from the clandestine to transparently and authentically listening to and engaging with customers.