GM rolls out a nifty 1992 apology for Columbia man


General Motors apologized to John F. Jacobs. The Columbia resident was stunned.

Not only did he receive an apology, but it came directly from the man who made the mistake that led to brake failure on his brand-new Buick, he said.

"I would never have believed it. I'm just amazed," the 48-year-old Mr. Jacobs said after the call last week from the GM worker who had improperly installed the brake assembly on his 1992 LeSabre.

"It appears to be that they're paying attention to quality control," Mr. Jacobs said. "We must be doing something differently, doing qualitycontrol despite what people in Japan are saying."

Mr. Jacobs, an electrical engineer, said he traded in a 1985 Toyota van to buy the gray, four-door 1992 LeSabre in December from a Glen Burnie dealership.

"It was time to trade, and I decided to buy American. I wanted to helpthe economy," said Mr. Jacobs, a native of England who "left there a long time ago."

But two weeks ago, with about 2,500 miles on the Buick's odometer, "I had a problem," he said, with a lingering touch of British understatement: "The brakes failed on my way home."

Fortunately, Mr. Jacobs, who works near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said he drives back roads on the 15-mile journey, "so there was no accident or anything. I was able to pump the brakes enough to get home."

The dealer apologized and towed the car to his garage. Mr. Jacobs got it back the next day, with the left front brake assembly replaced. The bracket had not been properly secured at the factory, allowing the brake fluid to drain away, he said.

A problem in one car could mean a problem in others, so Mr. Jacobs telephoned Buick customer-service to suggest a safety bulletin about apotential problem.

The surprise came when Mr. Jacobs received a call-back from the Flint, Mich., plant, from Rich Richardson, 47, a general foreman, and Mike Wilson, 41, who had installed the brakes.

Both men apologized profusely for the mistake, Mr. Jacobs said.

Mr. Jacobs said Mr. Wilson told him he had installed 80,000 front-wheel brake assemblies with two failures, one caught before the car left the plant -- and Mr. Jacobs'.

Mr. Richardson, a 29-year GM veteran, said yesterday in a telephone interview that he had never spoken directly to a complaining customer before, only with dealers who forwarded complaints.

He thought it was a dealer's number he received with the complaint but when he learned he had Mr. Jacobs' number, Mr. Richardson said, "I thought we ought to talk to him. The defect was so important that I thought we ought to tell him we are going to see it never happens again."

And when the foreman learned that Mr. Jacobs had traded in a foreign car to buy American, he asked Mr. Wilson, a 23-year GM employee, to join the call because of the current climate of American and Japanese government and auto industry officials bad-mouthing each other over car sales and American work habits.

"I'm just glad the man bought an American car," Mr. Wilson said. "If we can keep a customer for life then I have a job for life, and keeping jobs in this country is very important. We have to let the Japanese know we are serious about building good cars. The competition is such that we have to build good quality cars."

Julie Hamp, a Buick Division spokeswomam, said the company has a very strong dealer liaison program to deal promptly with defects such as that reported by Mr. Jacobs.

Ms. Hamp said that, to her knowledge, this was the first time a Buick Division employee had contacted a customer directly.

She said she plans to enter into discussions with officials of the company to see if it can be done again.

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