Alternative Car (the Saturn is Dead)

Portland Electric
Originally uploaded by m/a/z/e & Molliwogg.

My good friend, Tim (MasiGuy) Jackson has been doing it tough in his argument with General Motors Saturn. Those of you who frequent his blog will know him as a fun, articulate and FAIR bloke who is known for his honesty, energy and generosity. He also is the Marketing Manager for Masi Bikes, so he has a fairly good understanding of marketing, customer satisfaction and how to build deep brand experiences with consumers.

So he knows when he is at the WRONG end of the GM Saturn customer experience.

Now, the thing is, cars are NOT like other products. Apart from the purchase of a house, they are the single most expensive purchase that many of us are likely to make in our lifetimes. We invest not just our money, but our emotions and our sense of identity in these large lumps of metal … we spend hours and hours customising, caring, cleaning and driving around in our cars. They are essential ingredients in most family holidays, and the car is deeply entwined with our sense of freedom, escape and happiness — what would a roadtrip be without a car?

We also ENTRUST our cars with our own AND our family’s safety … we place our most valued people in our most valuable item. Car makers, especially those with "family cars" in their range, know this, understand it, and promote their car’s reliability, safety ratings and protection features.

Tim’s car features in many of his posts — he has a daily drive feature which includes photos from his once-beloved GM Saturn. You can often spy the very cute MasiDaughter taking a ride in the backseat — the Saturn VUE is a family car after all. But recently, the GM Saturn VUE has been featuring for entirely the wrong reasons — poor reliability, poor support, abysmal customer service AND downright dangerous mech/tech failures — all the reasons that you purchase a family car.

Tim has repeatedly contacted, talked to and blogged about his experience. He has even posted an open letter to Saturn.

It appears that there has been a HIGHLY unsatisfactory conclusion to Tim’s saga … but it wasn’t Tim who let us all know. The MasiWife has commandeered the blog to spill the beans on the frustration and bitterness that the Saturn Saga has wreaked on their family during the Christmas/New Year holiday period. Take a look … it is a sad indictment on the state of automotive customer service.

I wanted to get some background on Saturn (we don’t have GM Saturn brands here in Australia), so I did a bit of searching. It seems that they are making a big push into the ALTERNATIVE CAR category … And found this interesting PodTech video (featuring GM’s Clay Okabayashi) entitled "Following the Consumer" — it is embedded below. It is another example of where STRATEGY FAILS to connect with the WAY that the organisation carries on its day-to-day business. It is one thing to talk about the "ball being in the consumer’s court", but then turning your back on those very same consumers.

If GM is serious about delivering a competitive alternative car, it needs to address its poor customer service experience. Buying a car is not just about shipping the product, but a much LONGER commitment to the car buyer and the community. (Perhaps the first step is creating a blog to field some of the questions and to answer and engage with their long term communities — perhaps it would help avoid a car version of Dell Hell. As Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell say, "At the time, Dell did not have a corporate blog and no way to respond to the online conversations".

So what can we do?

  1. Blog it up — take a look at Tim’s site … and then contribute your view. Use the Technorati tags GM Saturn, GM Saturn Vue, MasiGuy, Bad Customer Service
  2. Drop by Tim’s blog and leave a message of support
  3. Send a message via the Saturn website
  4. Add your other ideas to the commentary here.

As the MasiWife says:

Masiguy is the most compassionate, most understanding customer service guy out there. He makes a compelling case. If they will screw him over, people, you don’t stand a chance! Don’t believe the hype. The product is crap. The service is crap.

Add your voice to the protest.


9 thoughts on “Alternative Car (the Saturn is Dead)

  1. Gav, this is why you are my hero…you help everyone (everyone!) and you give people various ways to take action. With all you’re going through, no less! But being Gav, you rallied the troops.
    Noel and your family remain in my prayers. Let’s all keep fighting the good fight. Tim – good luck with this fiasco.

  2. Gavin,
    I can’t thank you enough for this. Between you and CK rallying behind me and offering great advice, I feel very lucky to know such people are in my life who care. Seriously, I am floored by this attention.
    I do plan my own follow-up post on this matter and then I’m going back to pictures of my family and stories of riding my bikes.
    As CK has mentioned privately, with all that has been happening in your own life, the fact that you would reach out like this to help me has that much more impact on me. I am lucky to know people like you- I guess I really do owe you a pint when I get back to Sydney.

  3. Nice post.
    There’s been a lot of buzz lately about how GM was going to fight for every sale in 2007. Tim’s story is a poignant reminder that the sale doesn’t end when the consumer drives off into the sunset.

  4. I wonder how many dollars they spent trying to make Tim a customer in the first place. So, they got him, he became a customer, and they considered it a done deal, and moved on. And, now, instead of continuing to reap the rewards of their hard work of the initial sale, they let Tim go. Just plain stupid in my book.

  5. Picked it up. Thanks for letting us know about it, Gavin.
    I sense a rant on bean-counters rising from deep within my rank, smelly lower intestine.

  6. Thank you all for the support and the discussion about this. As I said in my final post, I am just as human as the people we work so hard to connect to with our marketing efforts. As such, my emotions came to the surface and I spoke in ways I am not totally proud of. Again though, with what I went through, I think many people can see why.
    I’m pretty lucky to have such friends looking out for a bike nerd like me.

  7. This issue with Saturn is really too bad. I owned one of the first Saturns when they came out, and it was great. The customer experience was so different from other car companies, and I always got attention from others when I drove my car.
    Alas, Saturn seems to have lost its way. Poor customer service is a killer.
    I will post on this soon to keep getting the word out. Thanks for the heads-up, Gavin!

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