LORDSTOWN From owners' lips to GM's ear

Car owners and plant officials had a rare chance to interact.
LORDSTOWN -- The persistent rattle in his car's driver's seat irritated Mike Worley.
So did the way his driver's-side door closed.
"The door sounded like it latched twice when I closed it," the Newton Falls man said of his white 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier. "I thought the door was made that way."
Worley was one of numerous customers invited to Saturday's outdoor Customer Appreciation Day at the GM assembly plant, the first in the plant's 35-year history.
GM offered to fix Worley's car problems -- both of which he had since he bought the vehicle in June. Within 45 minutes, he had a newly adjusted seat and door.
The event was designed to provide face-to-face contact between GM and owners of Pontiac Sunfires and Chevrolet Cavaliers.
Another purpose was to get comments on various new GM models, designs and features, as well as to educate customers about their own vehicles, said Julie Connare, the company's quality assurance manager.
Up close: Several car experts surrounded a Cavalier that had its hood up so people could see what's underneath.
"Lots of customers feel intimidated looking under the hood," Connare said.
Car owners also got to preview models not yet on the road, like a new Alpine green Sunfire, which won't be available in that color until next month.
Customers also viewed several product display tables that featured various accessories. For about $1,500, a person could buy a DVD player that fits between the back seats and plugs into a cigarette lighter.
The squeaky wheel ...: Those who bought Cavaliers or Sunfires voiced complaints and compliments, and GM officials offered free minor repairs, such as fixing squeaks and rattles. The company also made arrangements for major repairs.
Customers' complaints and opinions usually go through the dealer, who passes along that information to the automaker. The event should serve as a way to help GM produce better cars, Connare said.
Common problems can be several months old before GM knows about them, said Patti Poppe, general assembly manager. Saturday's event enabled the automaker to learn firsthand customers' concerns and how to better address them, she added.
Car owners and GM employees went on test drives to listen for rattling sounds and other minor problems. Some squeaks are easy to find, while others can take up to three hours to pinpoint, explained Bill Mitcheltree, a squeak and rattle technician.
"Sometimes you have to go one piece at a time to locate the noise," he said.
How they were chosen: GM asked about a dozen Mahoning Valley dealerships to select up to 15 customers who bought a Cavalier or Sunfire. Customers had to have bought their vehicle within the last 60 to 90 days.
For several years, GM has used the J.D. Power & amp; Associates quality survey to gauge the quality of cars produced there. This year's J.D. Power rating showed an improvement of three fewer problems per 100 cars than last year, said Tom Mock, a GM spokesman.
The plant's products averaged about 163 problems per 100 cars this year; GM's goal is to get to 100 problems per 100 cars, Mock said.
"Being face to face gives us an opportunity to address this," Mock said. "It gives our leadership tremendous ammunition in killing these problems."

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