By on October 21, 2011

In hopes of escaping Chevrolet’s recent past as what he calls a “truck funded, Midwestern and Southern” business, GM’s Mark Reuss is leading a revamp of Chevy’s Southern California retail environment in order to establish a stronger presence in that key market. Now that Chevy offers higher-quality, more-efficient cars that can compete in the SoCal market, Reuss and company say it’s time to focus on the retail experience. The GM North American boss tells the LA Times

We are really going to have a go at California. This is not some half-baked plan. We will be putting a serious amount of money into this.

Serious money is good… but money alone won’t change the culture of a car dealer that’s always played second fiddle to import brands. So, how will GM tackle cultural shortcomings at its SoCal dealerships? Let’s just say that, for all the apparent seriousness with which this issue is being tackled, GM has come up with a Mickey Mouse plan… literally.

The LAT reports

Chevrolet dealers and their sales staffs are headed for classes at the Anaheim theme park and elsewhere designed to turn fast-talking car salesmen into personable Prince Charmings.

They will learn such rules as a prince or princess never smokes in public. That takes the magic out of the Magic Kingdom. They will also learn that sometimes it’s better to be a little bit like Dopey. The silent dwarf doesn’t have to say anything to make people feel good. When it comes to purchasing cars, customers remember less about what the sales staff said than they do about the experience they had at the dealership.

“Disney has created a culture where they talk about how they are always on stage with their customer. Sometimes we take the customer for granted,” said Alan Batey, Chevrolet’s vice president of sales and service.

The Disney training will teach dealership employees how to interact with customers and to do dozens of small things that Batey hopes will create repeat business.

Niceties such as washing a car when it comes in for routine service and placing a bottle of cold water in the cup holder when the owner takes back the vehicle can help change consumers’ perceptions of the car business, Batey said.

Don’t smoke in front of customers and give out bottled water? Let’s hope the Disney training isn’t taking up much of the $500,000-$1.5m that GM is giving 100-odd Californian Chevy stores. Especially when much of the consumer bias against American-brand cars has to do with a lingering reputation for poor quality rather than poor dealership experience. And although GM clearly wants to kick-start the Chevrolet brand that now represents the core of its global business, overcoming decades worth of poor reputation doesn’t get solved with advice from fairy godmothers or from hiding cigarette-smoking dealer staff. Rebuilding Chevrolet brand allegiance in the fickle, fashion-forward Southern Californian market is going to be a generational challenge.

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24 Comments on “Chevy Hopes To Build A Magic Kingdom In Southern California...”

  • avatar

    I’m not a huge fan of Disney Inc., but they do know a bit about creating a comfortable atmosphere for their customers. Chevy could do worse than to listen to them. I suspect many Californians are bored with Toyota and Honda(this ex-Californian is), with their new product Chevy has a shot at being the new thing. But if their drivetrains don’t hold up, they’ll just be the flavor the week. Should be fun to see how this plays out.

  • avatar

    Lets not get fixated on one of the examples given – not smoking in front of customers. As stated this training will cover “dozens of small things that Batey hopes will create repeat business”. Just as making a great car requires attention to detail and getting the little things right (as well as the big) the same goes here. Time will tell if this works, but at least they are trying and have correctly identified an issue. Since they have the desirable cars now (for the most part) this is the next logical place to go to in addition to ensuring long term reliability.

  • avatar

    Being a Southern Californian much of the year, I can tell you most really care about reliability at 200K+ miles. In Southern California, people commute huge distances because homes are so unaffordable in high demand coastal regions. Have you ever seen a 1M 1,000 square foot starter home needing repair? Manhattan Beach has those, and they frequently get multiple offers. Something livable for less than 500K requires lots of driving. I know many who drive 30,000 miles per year, much of it in heavy traffic often in unsafe areas. The Toyota and Hondas really caught on after the first wave of those vehicles clocked 200K miles with little trouble. That is why they are so in demand. The majority of Southern California drivers fall into this category. They need durability and reliability.

    There is another Southern California demographic that drives foreign high end European exotics. These people want the most expensive vehicle available just to be seen in it. They usually flip these after a few short years, and they don’t care about resale or reliability.

    As far as I can tell, Detroit vehicles are not relaible in the 200K to 300K mileage level, and they are not exotic enough for the super rich southern californian. But, if southern californians sees the current crop of Detroit vehicles running trouble free with more than 200K miles on the clock, they will buy the brand new. Detroit needs a commercial that states “90% of the Ford cars built in the last 20 years are still on the road today.” That is what did it for Toyota and Honda in SoCal.

    • 0 avatar

      Having worked with Chevy dealer groups in NorCal, this “high mileage cars on the road” idea worked for Chevy Trucks. Cars, not so much. But my experience was 15 years ago. At least their bogey is Toyota and Honda. Back in the nineties they were still chasing Ford on the west coast, even thought we told the boys in Warren they need to benchmark against the leading imports. Oh, and 15 years later they’re still probably chasing Ford here in California.

  • avatar

    My last experience with a Chevy dealer was a bad time at the service department in September. After $800 worth of service for an overheating problem, they tested my compression and found one cylinder was low- and a burnt valve. IMO, they should have checked that before I authorized the repairs. Mr. Goodwrench ? Not hardly.

  • avatar

    @jj99 If 90% of a “whatever” built in the last 20 years are still on the road today thats a cool stat. But it don’t mean squat.

    Any vehicle built in the last 10 years,should still be on the road,..right? At 10 to 15 years,how many are still on the road?

    An interesting stat might be..How many 20 year old Toyotas are still on the road? How many 20 year old Chevy trucks are still on the road? How many vehicles did Honda build 20 years ago? How many did GM build 20 years ago? Do you have all those figures?

    I don’t think so.

    Figures lie, and liars figure.

    • 0 avatar

      The old ‘few cars run as long as a GM car runs badly’ theory doesn’t work in California because our cars have to pass emissions tests which often involve expensive repairs. My landlady’s 38,000 mile 1996 Buick was scrapped a couple years ago for this reason. It was a few touchups and a detailing job away from showroom condition. It did have an intermittent(but very frequent) starting problem in addition to failing power windows, but what killed it was the Buick dealer saying that a $2,000 dashboard(I assume circuitboard in dash, but she was told dashboard) MIGHT resolve the check engine issues. The previous SMOG check had cost over $1,000 too. You reall don’t see many American cars in Calfornia that were built between 1976 and 2000 for this reason, but you do see a remarkable number of Hondas and Toyotas from that period.

      P.S. on the way to scrap the Buick, the heater core burst and I had to drive with my head stuck out the window. It was a good thing that the car was done, because I had to roll down windows that weren’t going back up on their own to vent the steam filling the interior.

  • avatar

    Disney? No. Now if Chevy REALLY wants a kick in the pants in California, go no farther than up in Burbank, right on Olive Blvd. where it turns into Barnham – WARNER BROTHERS!

    Now WB knows how to “kick something in the pants”, just watch almost any “Looney Tunes” cartoon and you and Chevy will get an education real quick!

  • avatar

    It is never about the car for GM.

    The dealerships need to be Disneyfied; stupid customers have a “perception gap”; but never, never do they ever seem to consider that perhaps they need a better car…

    • 0 avatar

      Right now, the Cruze and Malibu are very good cars. They are at least competitive if not better than the offerings from Honda and Toyota. 5 years ago, I would agree with you. But those 2 cars are much better now. The Sonic is pretty good compared to a Yaris, but I would still put the Fit as the leader there.

    • 0 avatar

      Robbie, don`t be so binary. It isn`t just the car or just the dealer. It is the car, long term reliability, dealership experience, price, fuel economy etc. They need to work on all aspects – so this is potentially a step in the right direction. They need to benchmark the best (in all areas) and aim to surpass.

      • 0 avatar

        There is room for improvement in the SoCal dealership experience. It isn’t just Chevy either, so they could really achieve a competitive advantage by treating people well and not embarrassing themselves. Immediately pre-bailout, a friend of mine who is an LC in the Marines wanted to do the patriotic thing and supplement his manual transmission BMW with a small American truck, partially for commuting in grid lock. He started out wanting a 4 cylinder automatic, as gas was expensive and he was facing 40 minutes of stop and go traffic every day. I suggested looking at a Colorado or Canyon, mostly because they have considerably more powerful 4 cylinder engines than the Ranger does. He never got so far as to having a dealership offer to find him a truck with the drivetrain that he wanted or offer him a test drive in the 5 cylinder/automatic combinations they had by the dozen. Electronic requests for information were ignored, since every truck stocked was either a 4 cylinder/manual or a 5 cylinder/automatic. Considering trucks weren’t flying off lots in summer of 2008 and my friend looks exactly like you’d expect a Marine officer in his late ’30s driving a BMW to look like, you’d think they’d have treated his interest in one of their trucks with a bit of respect. They didn’t though. The Ford dealer was a little better, but the Ranger was cramped and primitive. The Toyota dealer convinced him to try a V6 rather than just saying that he didn’t have 4 cylinder automatics, which may have been the case. He wound up with quite a bit more truck than he intended, but the result is that he is very happy with his Tacoma and it wound up replacing the BWM as his primary vehicle.

  • avatar

    To ensure cars/drive trains last the 200,000 mile mark you have to make them (1) bullet proof, 2) able to be fixed anywhere without $k’s worth of diagnostic equipment, just a couple of hundred$ worth of generic diagnostic tools, or (3) look to the markets where longevity of vehicles is a national obsession/neccesity and pick their minds on how they go about it. Not a manufacturing ethics that gives you vehicles, that, once over three years old, the part availability dissapears to be replaced by another bit that won’t fit/do the same job the same way.

  • avatar

    So in essence what Chevy does with the rear-wheel-drive lineup?

  • avatar

    They’re being abandoned by conservative Midwestern and southern types, and are now trying to win back the liberals that never bought them anyways. Conservatives were already conflicted about usually buying vehicles built by the UAW, but the illegal bailouts may have been the straw that broke the camels back.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re being abandoned by conservative Midwestern and southern types, and are now trying to win back the liberals that never bought them anyways.

      GM has been increasing its US market share and retail sales. This “abandonment” that you describe isn’t to be found in the sales data.

      California, particularly Southern California, is the beachhead of the US automotive market. It’s where national trends begin, and where new brands can rise from obscurity.

      If GM wants to have a long-term future, then it has little choice but to target California. Detroit’s habit of ignoring it has been of tremendous benefit to Toyota, Honda, Daimler, BMW and Hyundai.

    • 0 avatar

      Because it’s really left or right when buying cars? “Conservative” buyers didn’t care about unionization until the plants starting plunking down in their backyards then they desired to break the UAW so they could get paid a third of what the UAW worker did but had a job as the non-union jobs filtered overseas first. “Liberals” have consistently bought both American & foreign cars. Nothing in sales data actually suggests it is a political statement. If anything it’s a socio-economic stratus that dictates what people buy. The poorer one is the more likely to purchase domestics because of the heavy incentives they’ve had on them in the last decade. The more affluent tended toward midsize SUVs from foreign companies or much larger SUVs from domestics.

  • avatar

    That Lumina Coupe in the vid is absolutely hideous. They could have at least used a Z34 model in the commercial.

    Good luck GM, you’re gonna need it going forward.

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