The Ultimate Klunker Machine
The Ultimate Klunker Machine
*Which in this case stands for âBad Motor Worksâ
Yugo? Audi 5000 Turbo? Which is worse, a lemon for a car or an arrogant carmaker? How about being stuck with both at the same time? Therein lies the sorry saga of my friendâs six-year struggle to get his BMW 535 running right.
It seems that some carmakers, such as Lexus/Toyota, clearly get that the key to run away success is building quality cars and backing them with an unending commitment to customer care. Yet other carmakers seem to want to run away from their problematic cars and customersâ problems with them. My friendâs experience with BMW underscores how fast and how far theyâve fallen into that group of carmakers that just donât get it.
Mind you, this experience is NOT mine, but I did make sure everything below is true.
My friend Victor Lin, when still fresh out of school, was one of the founders of a Taiwanese semiconductor company. After eight years of working long days and longer nights, he and his associates took the company public. Victor decided to celebrate this major accomplishment by buying himself a brand new 2000 BMW 535. (Because of various import restriction and taxes, the BMW he bought in Taiwan cost about $90,000 US, or about twice what it costs in the United States.) Victor was thrilled for a while - far too short a while.
Almost from day one, his BMW 535 exhibited vibration and hesitation from a cold start, especially if not driven for several days. His repeated visits to the dealer did not resolve this irritating problem. Despite two engine over-heating incidents (the first within a year of purchase), these vibrations were deemed ânon-criticalâ by the dealer. Being a âgo-along-to-get-alongâ Taiwanese, Victor soon (too soon) gave up on fixing this ânon-criticalâ problem. By the way, the dealer blamed the over-heating on Taiwanâs summer heat, saying that the weather isnât conducive to an eight-cylinder powerhouse like the 535 (now, if thatâs so, I wonder why they sold the car to Victor in the first place). Finally, early this year, during a routine maintenance visit, the mechanics finally admitted that the six-year-old vibration not only exists, but that it has caused cracks in the cylinder walls, coolant leaks, and obviously, a required engine rebuild. This is where I came in to the picture.
After more than a month of unheeded complaints to the local BMW people, hopeless Victor came to my office, hoping that his VP of International Business could help him. Mind you, I was VERY skeptical that there was anything I could do. But the more I dug into it, the more I felt Victor should at least attempt to contact headquarters. Surely someone at a higher up level in BMW must have some sense of how important good customer relations is to a business, especially a carmakerâs business, where repeat sales mean so much to profitable success. Victor and I must have written about half dozen emails to the CEO and the Customer Relations Manager. We got nothing for our effort, other than the usual, near clichÃ©d, âsorry, but there is nothing we can do.â
Now hereâs the climax:
As a last resort, I actually rerouted my most recent business trip so that I could have three (not one, or two, but three!!!) days in Munich (BMWâs headquarters), thus allowing enough to assure that I could meet with their Customer Relations Manager. My repeated emails were ignored. I left Munich disappointed.
Letâs for the moment set aside whether my friend Victor has a legitimate grievance or not - I simply donât understand BMWâs attitude. Hasnât it learned from Audiâs fiasco that it actually doesnât really matter in the end who is right? That itâs customer service and the customerâs wallet that decides the market share battle? For those of you who donât recall the matter, there were a spat of âsudden accelerationâ with certain Audi 5000 turbo cars in the late 1980s, some of which resulted in death. Audiâs insistence that the problem was âdriver errorâ and its arrogance ultimately escalated into sensationalized reporting. Audi America subsequently lost most of it market share. It took Audi several world-class cars (Audi 90, Audi A4) and about ten years to recover what it lost in a single PR disaster. You would think that all carmakers, especially the German ones, would have learned what the Greeks taught us two thousand years ago: arrogance is the ultimate demise of mankind.
As to the Yugo analogy: it would be a gross exaggeration to put BMW in the same class as Yugo. (Some might think Victorâs BMW 535 comes close.) However, the 2006 Consumer Reports Annual Car issue clearly shows that BMW is also no Toyota or Honda, much less a Lexus. For this reason alone, itâs simply not good business for BMW to mishandle problems to the extent where a disgruntled customer would have to go the lengths that Victor and I have had to. What are they thinking about in that Bavarian headquarters of theirs?
In these Internet times, when bloggers can instantly reach millions of potential car buyers, BMW might want to reconsider its promotional strategy, spend less on meaningless (arrogant) âUltimate Driving Machineâ TV spots costing untold millions of dollars, and put more into earning grass roots support from its customers.
VP of International Business
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