Monday, January 23, 2006
Ford Motor Company
I have lived happily ever after in the Detroit metropolitan area nearly all of my adult life since 1965. I love the city and the State of Michigan, both of which have been good to me. It has been said that when the rest of the country catches cold, Detroit catches pneumonia. Today Ford Motor Company gave an already economically traumatized area a deadly jolt. It will be closing its Wixom plant, affecting approximately 20,000 workers. Some of them are my law clients. I personally will be sharing the economic pain.
In situations like this, everybody likes to blame everybody else. Management likes to blame labor unions. The UAW (United Automobile Workers for the benefit of our overseas readers) likes to blame management. Both sides blame the alleged greed of the other.
Of course, having viewed the prognostications of the globalists since 1981, I would love to ascribe all blame to the New World Order. It certainly deserves its fair share of same. There is plenty of blame to go around for labor and management. However, perhaps anecdotally – certainly based on my personal experiences over the past few years, I have a few suggestions for Ford Motor Company as it seeks to regroup. I certainly hope they will plan much of their regrouping in this Detroit area from which much of their accumulated wealth originated.
My theory about Ford woes centers about (1) Ford Motor dealers and their service departments and more importantly (2) Ford Motor Company’s absolutely atrocious handling of legitimate consumer complaints.
Ford makes a great product. My last Ford car was a 1990 Cougar which lived to the ripe old age of nearly 200,000 miles before I decided in the fall of 2004 that further repair was not practical. I bought that car used with 70,000 miles under its belt before I got it. My repair bills over its life were remarkably low. This says a lot about the quality of Ford Motor Company manufacturing prowess. I have heard similar stories from many other Ford Motor Company product owners.
I made a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana for Erma Cumbey’s funeral in July 2002. After the wake but before the next day’s funeral in Roanoke, Fort Wayne had a near deluge quantity rainstorm. The wipers failed on my car after handling those many gallons of water. After the next day funeral, my son’s uncle, Tom Cumbey, recommended a Fort Wayne Ford dealer for reputable service. I approached for drive in service and received word that a minimal diagnosis would be $39.00 and they might have to order the parts which would require overnight service. I approved the diagnosis workup. After approximately 2 ½ hours in the waiting room, the service manager approached me with the sad news: the car would allegedly require $500 worth of repairs. I would have to leave the car overnight which would mean an expensive hotel stay should I avail myself of the service. Additionally, he said the ball bearings on the vehicle were bad and that might require another large cash outlay. I was given a bill to approve for $41.00. I asked what the additional $2.00 was for over the initial diagnosis estimate and I was told, “for the use of our equipment.” When I asked, “what equipment,” I was told “our computer.”
I had no reason at that point to doubt the estimate or its integrity, but I was about to receive one. I could not spend the night. I had a disabled husband at home and I needed to be in court the next day. I said, “I can’t stay – I must be home tonight. Just write up what it needs and I’ll give it to my mechanics at home tomorrow.” I saw them exchange glances and then they said, “well, we’ll have to put it back together. It might not require everything on the list.”
Miraculously, I had both a dry and bug free drive home that evening to our home. The next day I took it to my most honest mechanic – Bloomfield Township Marathon – a mile from my office. Their customers are so happy, they enjoy almost a cult-like following. For sure the car did not need everything on the list. What did it need? A $1.99 fuse replacement had the entire wiper system running good as new.
Like most area attorneys, I had clients with Ford Motor connections. One Ford Motor engineer gave me a toll-free consumer hot line number to call. It was for Ford Motor Company Customer Relations. I went through the lengthy and stilted interview by the person taking the call. I reported this very serious breach to her and what it nearly cost in terms of personal safety, not to mention the attempted financial fraud. She took a moment, came back to the phone and said bluntly, “we will have to stand by our dealer’s diagnosis – that’s one of our certified repair dealers!" End of story, case closed. There was absolutely no interest in the truth -- only politically protecting a "certified dealer."
This may have been her personally. I doubt it. She most likely reflected company policy. At any rate, she reflected the front line. I toyed with writing an angry letter to the company and copying it to various consumer affair agencies in the State of Indiana. I ended up dismissing the notion of further complaint as one that would be at most unproductive. I had a bad taste in my mouth and remained too angry to immediately consider doing business with another Ford dealer -- or use another Ford mechanic. (And I am sure that the vast majority of them are good and honest, but Ford's unwillingness to even investigate tainted my outlook on all!) I have done business with my gas station mechanics for the last 12 years. They are scrupulously honest. If they told me I needed an expensive repair, I would have absolutely no reason to distrust them. Their walls were full of letters from equally happy customers of their repair garage. It is too bad I could not trust the certified Ford dealer. It is even worse that they blindly took the reputation of dealers over bona fide customer complaints. I am most certain this was not an isolated incident.
Oh, and the “ball bearings.” I drove the car without serious repair needs until the fall of 2004. That too was fictional!
Ford makes a wonderful product. It has brilliant engineers. Its products last and last! I suspect that if it ran herd a little closer on its bad dealers – if it really listened to customer complaints, its business might just improve enough to keep it the major global operation it deserves to be. I wish it luck. I also recommend some housekeeping – with the dealers where necessary and with the consumer complaint department.
We have a close family friend -- Rich Caleal -- his father designed the car which lifted Ford from doldrums in the late 1940s. I hope another such renaissance is in its works and admittedly selfishly, I hope its economic rebirth is Michigan based.
Go to it Ford, but remember basic integrity at both the dealer and consumer complaint level might do more to restore old level of sales than you ever believed possible.
Did you see what's in this past monday's paper in the Oakland Press. It was in the head lines about the Real ID Act towards drivers licences in MI. This also for all 50 states to show extra ID just to get a drivers licence. They were also talking about showing birth certificates besides our S.S. Numbers. As believers we must decide where do we draw the line. It's getting scary out there.
Eagle Eyes watching for his return.
This is the same problem I've found with in many places from HMOs to the local public school. The personal, clever, emotion-driven mailings, ads
and public relations efforts from these mega-corporations, organizations, and government branches are lies in themselves. As the government pyramid grows larger and larger, there are more and more lies between the heads of government and the citizens.
Are there any commandments left that we as a community honor and live by?
I fear we are living in a house of cards, refusing to try and separate truth from lies because it is so difficult to face the truth while living the lies.
I want to add that part of their problem is the cost of a new vehicle, it's depreciation right off the lot, and then no courtesy or customer service once you get the car. You feel more like you are entering a bondage agreement with the service plans than a help. I have received three letters asking why I haven't visited for tune ups and oil changes~ well where does one start?
I went to a dealership to have an oil change and the sales person at the service department suggested more extensive service which I refused. Within two days of my visit my car started to hesitate. A friend sitting next to me said that her husband told her once that this is a transmission problem. It was late Saturday evening so all gas stations and service areas were closed. I stopped at a Murrays Autoparts discount Store and asked one sales person if he would check the level of my transmission fluid. To his suprise and his disbelief, the fluid was near empty. I had no leaks so who took off the fluid?
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