The Volt fix and the new GM

Author: Rod Meloni, Local 4 Business Editor, @RodMeloni
Published On: Jan 05 2012 06:22:10 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 05 2012 06:42:00 PM EST
Rod Meloni - more 4 your money

There is one question I hear about General Motors on a regular basis.

Is the new company really new?

Insiders and analysts alike tell me mid-level management has not dramatically changed its arrogant ways. I hear plant workers say they still battle the same demons they fought prior to the bankruptcy; intransigent managers who know best what to do, how and when. It’s likewise for many plant managers who sometimes still get frustrated with union employees.

Yet, I also hear about how the new executive team at the Ren-Cen fighting like crazy to genuinely infuse the place with a modern business notion of not good, but world class customer service and attention to detail involving everything.

The only way to tell whether GM truly has changed is when inevitable and unexpected trouble arises. Today is just such a day. It announced a fix to the Chevy Volt battery system. You may wonder did the battery need a fix. The answer is no. But the leadership at the new company decided a fix was the only right answer.

Here’s some history. Last May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crashed tested a Volt. It did a side crash that poked a miniscule hole in the battery casing and some battery cooling fluid leaked. No one knew at the time and technicians simply deposited the car in a distant parking lot and left it unattended.

Three weeks later, some of the crystallized coolant ended up arcing with a computer circuit board when some more fluid leaked starting a fire in the electronics. This certainly startled NHTSA left to wonder if the new automotive technology had a hidden danger. Later last fall, NHTSA tried to recreate the accident again. This time, taking a wrecked Volt and putting it on what amounts to a giant automotive spit. It slowly spun the car upside down, waited for coolant to leak again and sure enough another circuit board sparked into flame. It turns out the battery was never damaged in all of this and they appear completely safe today. NHTSA is still investigating all of this and hasn’t decided whether a fix is needed. GM isn’t waiting.

Saying he was throwing out the recall playbook, GM North American chief Mark Reuss said he intended to make certain any Volt owner with any question about their car is made happy and whole!

He already offered to buy back any Volt a customer wasn’t comfortable keeping after the fires came to light. But today, he and Product development executive Mary Barra took to a conference call to announce a safety program they did not need to but felt compelled to undertake.

Volt owners will get letters to bring their cars into dealerships starting in February.

Each car will have its batter casing strengthened and battery cooling fluid wells will get a new sensor to make certain they are neither too high nor too low. The process will take roughly a day. Each owner will get a free replacement car. GM already started building the parts for this fix, and will have them ready when the Pole town plant in Hamtramck restarts for the year next week. This is not a recall; this is a so-called safety action. It’s also the right action. It’s the king of boutique service luxury owners with nameplates like Lexus and Infiniti, BMW and Mercedes have come to expect.

Yes, GM knows its beloved, if undersold halo car is its image going forward. It can not afford to mess this up. Today’s action ahead of any NHTSA action shows this is decidedly NOT the old GM. Yes some things have changed. It’s a good public relations move but more than anything it’s a good way to show everyone, not just customers, this is they way to do business in the 21st century.