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Arlington GM workers to take home new cars to try out

Arlington GM workers to take home new cars to try out

 

12:00 AM CST on Saturday, February 27, 2010

 

By TERRY BOX / The Dallas Morning News
tbox@dallasnews.com

 

Employees at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington, who already put in plenty of overtime weekly, may soon be asked to take work home.

Hundreds have already volunteered.

On Monday, a tractor-trailer rig from Detroit will arrive at the Arlington plant with six new vehicles aboard – cars and crossovers that GM employees will be able to check out and take home for a night or weekend as part of a new "GM Vehicle Plant Tour." The vehicles will be at the plant for a month.

"We had so much interest in it we had to use a lottery to determine who would get to be a volunteer," said Enrique "J.R." Flores Jr., president of United Auto Workers Local 276, which represents most of the plant’s 2,400 workers. "People are really excited about it."

GM, which went through a painful, highly public bankruptcy last year, wants to get employees involved in its products, believing they can be credible proponents for GM cars and trucks with neighbors or friends who might be in the market for a new vehicle.

For years, the bosses in Detroit and managers at GM’s plants have enjoyed the privilege of driving new GM models – partly to provide feedback on them.

Last year, the company began taking vehicles to various GM offices in the Detroit area so employees could drive them. This year, the program was expanded to include the workers at GM’s 40 assembly, powertrain and stamping plants in the U.S. and Canada.

"We want to engage employees to do underground marketing for us," said Wendy Stachowicz, coordinator of the GM Vehicle Advocate Program. "You look at where the company has been and where it has to go. Everyone has to help."

The Arlington plant, which builds full-size SUVs, will be one of the first four factories to get the new vehicles for a month. The other factories are in Shreveport; Tonawada, N.Y.; and Defiance, Ohio.

Each will get a Chevrolet Camaro, Chevy Malibu, Chevy Equinox crossover, GMC Terrain crossover, Buick LaCrosse sedan and Cadillac CTS wagon. After a month, the vehicles will move to the next four plants.

Arlington was among the first selected because it is in the South, where winter weather is a little less harsh than in other parts of the U.S. GM executives also chose plants that were not launching new products or engaged in special projects.

Employees with good driving records will be permitted to take the vehicles home on weeknights or over weekends, Stachowicz said. If someone decides to buy a GM vehicle, they can qualify for discounts that typically lower the price to near wholesale levels.

But the employees don’t get commissions or rewards, Stachowicz said.

"This is a tool to empower people, to get them really engaged with our products," she said.

Though Stachowicz declined to say how much the program will cost GM, she described the expense as small. The vehicles that are part of it were used initially in quality tests.

"We’re reusing them," she said.

George Hoffer, a professor of economics at Virginia Commonwealth University who follows the auto industry, said the program makes sense. Employees will be more effective in discussions and demonstration drives with neighbors and friends than any dealership salesperson could be.

In addition, the vehicles – when they are retired from the program – should fetch good prices at auction because most should be well-equipped, low-mileage models.

"It makes a lot of sense at a very, very low cost to the firm," Hoffer said.

Stachowicz also plans to get GM retirees and suppliers involved in the program.

"We have all these great new products," she said. "But the first thing we have to do is change the perception of GM."

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