Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – The recalls and media attention surrounding Toyota Motor Corp. is bad for the industry, General Motors Co. President Mark Reuss tells journalists here.

“No one likes to see a competitor be put through that,” Reuss says on the sidelines of the 2010 Chicago auto show.

GM wants its rivals to be healthy and compete on a fair playing field, he says.

Regardless, Reuss believes Toyota’s woes may be an opportunity for GM to capture the attention of buyers who have been ignoring its brands.

However, the auto maker doesn’t have data yet showing it has been able to win over Toyota customers, he says, adding February might prove a better indicator than January.

In a keynote speech this morning, Reuss emphasizes GM must “blow away,” not simply match, the competition as it continues to rebuild after its bankruptcy filing last year.

The auto maker is undertaking a variety of activities to improve customer relations, namely having employees scour social media sites Facebook and Twitter for GM buyers experiencing problems with their vehicles. The employees then contact the owners.

Reuss personally has made some phone calls to customers who are having problems with their GM car or truck and facilitated a process where engineers go to their homes to repair a vehicle.

GM also has set up a “How to Help a Customer” internal website and corresponding mobile- phone application for employees to field customer inquiries.

“Frankly, I wish we had (done this before), because we’re learning a lot about what we can do better,” Reuss says.

The former head of the GM Holden Ltd. unit in Australia says he is committed to his new job because “at this point we have the chance to build an entirely new company from scratch…that’s what gets me fired up.”

GM is “putting points on the board” with four straight months of retail-sales increases for its four brands, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, he says.

The biggest threat to that success is not following through on its promise to improve products and the customer experience, Reuss says.

To that end, Reuss will be attending the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in Orlando, FL, this weekend, to smooth out any issues that have arisen between GM and its retailers. He says attending NADA always was the plan, despite media reports to the contrary.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com