A Sense of Urgency
“When I walk the dog, I routinely use the app to scan the plates of cars parked in my neighborhood,” says the service manager at Fitzgerald Toyota in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “Just the other day, I got a match on a Corolla in a driveway. So, I knocked on their door. A woman answered and I explained my concern. She came into the dealership and got her car fixed.”
That’s one vehicle among the roughly 37 million that are still at risk. Briggs worries that those left unaddressed, if involved in collisions that trigger their airbags, could potentially inflict severe if not fatal injuries.
It Takes a Dealership
Fitzgerald Toyota Service Manager Gil Briggs, center, leads a team of technicians who are doing everything they can to help affected customers address the Takata airbag recall.
Toyota shares his concern. It’s sent out more than 30 notices to certain owners to convince them to bring their vehicles to their local dealerships for the free fix. It’s also connected with customers at community events, such as “Buckle Up for Life” child safety seat checks. So far, about 60 percent of those affected by the recall have responded. While that repair rate exceeds that of most of the 19 automakers who relied on Takata for its airbag inflators, Toyota wants to reach more owners.
So, to help promote more repairs, Toyota has turned to its dealers to spread the word on the grassroots level. Fitzgerald Toyota, which hosted its first-ever Airbag Awareness Week last fall, is among those who’ve answered the call — and are making a difference.
“We started the year with a list of 1,600 people who were driving these vehicles,” says Briggs. “We put a ton of effort into it and got about half of them to come in. But the rest were very resistant.”
The challenge, says Briggs, is that many of the remaining vehicles are 10-15 years old and on their second or third owners. Most of these people have never set foot in a Toyota dealership and are wary of what they think is a marketing blitz.
“We’ve had some people actually say they feared we were going to put some sort of tracking device on their cars,” says Briggs. “For many of them, it kind of boils down to answering a simple question: ‘What’s in this for me?’”
On the Case
Service technician Rob Gorman runs the diagnostics on a customer’s vehicle.
Fitzgerald Toyota’s response? Free stuff. Owners who bring in their vehicles now receive a voucher for an oil change, front-end alignment, deluxe car cleaning, wiper blade replacement or $40 off any service or repair. Some 160 people took the dealership up on that offer during the awareness week, prompted by emails, phone calls and direct mail that sought to secure service appointments.
To promote the campaign, Fitzgerald Toyota held a press conference headlined by representatives of Toyota, the local Department of Motor Vehicles and even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And it collaborated with local Hispanic radio and TV stations that broadcast the outreach effort in Spanish.
The dealership also conducted training sessions to prepare its troops for the influx of first-time customers to ensure they had a positive experience.
“I was very active greeting people in the service lane,” says Briggs. “Clearly, fixing their airbags was the top priority. But if we could get them into the dealership for that and get them to return to use their voucher, then there was a chance we could earn their business longer term.
“In the end, though, this was about preventing a tragedy. Given the life-and-death stakes, I would definitely recommend that every Toyota dealership do something like this.”
Want to follow in Fitzgerald Toyota’s footsteps? Contact your district service and parts manager for more information.