The fallout from Thursday’s report that General Motors sat on knowledge of deadly car defects for years could resonate strongly, not just for the embattled manufacturer, but for local dealerships as well.
“I’ve got a Buick and a Chevrolet in the driveway, and they’re older so they don’t have the ignition problem, but that’s probably it for G.M.,” says Frank Pugliese of Meriden. He’s just one of many venting disgust, not only because of the egregious ethics breach asserted by the report – at least 13 people died as a result of faulty ignition switches that caused Chevrolet Cobalt engines to shut down at full speed, also disabling the power steering and airbags, the report indicates – but especially in light of the G.M. bailout that happened at taxpayers’ expense during the same stretch of time during which people were dying.
“What did they know when they went to the court and they said, ‘Give us a shield against all liability, give us $40 billion in taxpayer money to bail us out?’,” an incredulous U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) asked Friday while speaking about the fiasco to media at Bob Thomas Ford in Hamden.
Senator Blumenthal also pointed out that the report was done by a former U.S. Attorney whose firm has a relationship with General Motors, and Blumenthal insists that the government must now step in with its own probe.
As painful as that past seems to be, another question still specifically on the minds of many G.M. vehicle owners is, what immediate recourse is there?
“People should not be hesitant about renting cars,” says Senator Blumenthal. “ They are not going to have to pay for them. G.M. will have to pay for them.”
That could mean quite a tab for General Motors to pick up, given a reportedly woeful undersupply of replacement parts at dealerships in Connecticut and perhaps elsewhere. One example is an unidentified dealership in Fairfield County, where the Senator says parts are available for just five of 61 recall cases at that location alone.
Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association president James Fleming, who met privately with Senator Blumenthal moments before Friday’s press conference, explains that the first step toward getting a rental, for anyone affected by the recall, is to bring the vehicle to an authorized dealership. Fleming tells NBC Connecticut that General Motors will be on the hook to cover the rental for as long as it takes to make the repair.
For those uncertain, Fleming says dealerships can always determine whether a particular vehicle is subject to a recall. In fact, he says, dealers will often automatically make recall repairs on cars brought in for other services, including routine maintenance. He also says dealers’ vested interest is in serving customers, not the manufacturer.
“They do all of this recall work for their customers; they’re all family-owned businesses.”
But it looks like the stain of association, based on the sentiments of people we asked, might cost those family-owned dealerships dearly for a long time to come.
“All these people knew for all these years, using government money to build these jokes, and that’s what they are. How many people are you going to kill?,” quips Pugliese as he loads groceries into his Mercury automobile.
Allysa Putney of North Haven is no less forgiving.
“I would be scared to death to take my six-year-old in a car and not know there’s a problem, and find out driving down the road that there is.”