General Motors' head of global product quality said today the automaker intends to retain more customers by making design decisions sooner and getting customers' feedback earlier.
Alicia Boler-Davis, vice president for global product quality, said GM's retention rate -- the percentage of GM owners who buy another GM vehicle when they replace their old ones -- is near the industry average of 52 percent to 53 percent.
"We win when the customer says we win," Boler-Davis said at an event in Royal Oak.
Boler-Davis said GM is deciding what a new vehicle will look like earlier in the development process. That should give the automaker more time to discover defects before the product hits the market, Boler-Davis said. She said designs would be locked in about 18 months before a vehicle launches. GM is conducting road testing far earlier than it did in the past.
The company is also introducing a supplier quality award to incentivize dealers to eliminate defects.
Boler-Davis, who is also GM's U.S. vice president of customer experience, said GM is conducting mystery stops at dealerships, providing specialized training to dealers and offering specialists to help customers understand complex infotainment systems.
"It's not rocket science," she said. "You build them right, you treat people right and they will come back for more."
She said the company is placing a heightened emphasis on boosting quality at its assembly plants. She said about 75% of GM's assembly plants beat the industry average for quality in J.D. Power & Associate's latest Initial Quality Study, but she wants the rest of GM's plants to improve.
"Product quality is a team sport," she said. "Everyone has a role to play."
Mary Barra, GM's senior vice president for global product development, said the company is tying compensation to customer retention. She said GM gains about $700 million in revenue and 25,000 vehicles sold for every percentage point increase in customer retention.
"We're really refocusing and reinventing our complete approach to quality, making it front and center to everything we do from how we interact with customers to how we design engineer and manufacture vehicles," Barra said.
New technologies can play a key role in GM's improvements, she said. For example, GM researchers recently developed a proprietary corrosion-protection process that will make "rusty brake rotors a thing of the past."
She said the system, which involves super-heating rotors in a large oven, has reduced related repairs by up to 90% in the vehicles where it's currently deployed.
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