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Enjoying My New Buick LaCrosse

Even the longest journey begins with a single step. But this wasn't supposed to be a long journey; it just turned out that way. It's difficult to say exactly how long I've been thinking about buying a new car … several years at least, but I didn't become serious about it (read: do any research) until late 2004, and it wasn't until April 2005 that I began earnestly shopping.

A couple months ago I wrote a round-up of my car-buying saga, and also published the complaint letter I wrote to Buick for screwing up my order. Now the saga has finally come to a conclusion. An amazing five months after placing my original order, I finally have a shiny new car in my garage.

I decided to accept the vehicle that was built with incorrect options, after a two-month-long clash with Buick customer service that reached all the way to the GM Executive Office. It's quite a story…

Let's enjoy the suspense for a minute, and take a look at the vehicle I now own. Here's the option description:

  • (4WE19) 2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS
  • (422U) Exterior color: Deep Sapphire Metallic
  • (192) Interior color: Ebony
  • (R13) Chrome appearance package
  • (P23) Chrome wheels, 17"
  • (U3L) CD/MP3 player and Concert Sound III system
  • (KA1) Heated front seats
  • (JL4) StabiliTrack stability control system
  • (PCI) Driver Confidence Package:
    • (UK3) Steering wheel audio and temperature controls
    • (UG1) Universal Home Remote
    • (DD8) Electrochromatic rearview mirror
    • (DK2) Heated outside mirrors
    • (AG2) Power adjusting passenger seat
    • (UD7) Ultrasonic rear parking assist
    • (TR0) Rear reading lights

My vehicle is unique because it has the Driver Confidence Package but it does not have the steering wheel audio and temperature controls. This is the factory error that caused so much trouble for me, my dealership, and GM. Other noteworthy standard equipment (standard on the CXS trim level) includes:

  • 3.6L VVT DOHC V6 engine (240HP, 225lb.-ft.)
  • QuietTuning
  • Leather seats
  • Split-folding rear seats
  • OnStar telematics system
  • Tilt and telescopic steering column
  • Adjustable seat belt shoulder straps
  • Automatic dual-zone climate control
  • Vanity mirrors on both sun visors
  • Full-range traction control
  • All-wheel antilock disc brakes
  • Driver and front passenger airbags
  • Head curtain airbags (for outboard passengers in front and rear seats)
  • Fog lamps

Here are a bunch of photographs. You'll see my reflection in several of them due to the fact that the car is still very shiny and I took most of these pictures on a well-lit day. Click each thumbnail for a high-resolution image:

Kyle Markley picking up his new 2006 Buick LaCrosse.

Me, picking up the vehicle on a rainy Oregon day. This is an interesting picture because there's another blue LaCrosse in the background, on the right, without the chrome trim. Mine is much prettier.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, exterior, side view of front.

Driver's side view of the front of the car.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, front lights and chrome.

Front lights and chrome trim.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, grille.

Waterfall grille (and advertisement for the dealership.)

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, chrome wheel.

This is the LaCrosse's available chrome wheel.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, side rear window.

Side rear window and "C" pillar. This window is too small to usefully see out of, but it's pretty.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, tail lamps.

Tail lamps.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, gleaming Buick tri-shield logo.

Here's a picture of Buick's tri-shield logo, gleaming in the sunlight. You can also see a distorted view of my hands in the reflection from the chrome.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, front view.

Front view of the car. Those birds in the background are surely looking forward to tagging my new car.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, driver's door and controls.

Driver's door and controls.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, rear seating area.

Rear seating.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, console.

Console as viewed from rear seat.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, audio and temperature console controls.

Controls for MP3 audio system and automatic dual-zone climate control system.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, Driver Information Center controls.

Controls for Driver Information Center.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, shifter.

I think the wood-textured shifter is one of the LaCrosse's nicest visual touches.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, side view of shifter.

Side view of shifter, showing trigger. The trigger also fires the frickin' laser beam attached to the roof.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, instrument cluster.

Driver's instrument cluster.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, basic steering wheel.

Steering wheel without the audio and temperature controls. Sigh!

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, wiper, turn signal, and headlight control.

Wiper, turn signal, and headlight brightness control. This is the vehicle's only control stalk.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, interior and exterior light controls.

Light controls; interior on left, exterior on right.

2006 Buick LaCrosse CXS, engine.

Under the hood of every new vehicle lurks an engine that's still clean.

Now, back to our story…

After the vehicle arrived in August, I wrote a letter to Buick customer service complaining about the missing steering wheel controls and asking them to give me a guarantee that they would build my vehicle correctly if I re-ordered. Neither myself nor my dealership were comfortable with the idea of placing a regular re-order through the same system that had already failed us twice.

Buick ignored my letter. No phone call, no e-mail, nothing. I know their mailbox isn't a black hole because I had written them a letter after the first screw-up (when they canceled my order) and received a telephone call in response. I gave them two weeks, then tried e-mail.

In my e-mail I asked whether they received my letter, and very briefly outlined what had happened to me. The response I got, while at least not a form letter, was merely an offer to help me locate a vehicle and did not even mention the topic of my letter. My reply included the full text of my letter.

It's important to know that my car dealer was also in contact with Buick about my incorrect order. He was originally promised an explanation of why the vehicle was built incorrectly within two business days. He got a phone call in two business days, but they said they weren't able to figure out what happened and that they'd keep investigating. (No, they never followed through with an explanation — big surprise, eh?) When I finally purchased the car, my dealer told me that we had crossed paths several times in our efforts with Buick customer assistance.

I thought I was getting somewhere when they opened a case file based on the e-mail containing my letter, and said "We will follow-up with you this week with an update or the final resolution."

They didn't. Nine days later, I send them a reminder e-mail. No response in the next twelve days, so I gave up on e-mail and decided I'd call them.

The great virtue of the telephone is that they can't ignore you. The best they can do is put you on hold, and thankfully they didn't do that to me very much. I learned that the person who had been assigned to my case had left the group. The case had been reassigned, but I hadn't heard anything from my new support contact.

I tried calling them several times, at varying times of day and days of the week, but I was always connected to voicemail. The voicemail message promised a response within a few business days, so my later messages reminded them that it was taking too long. In the end I never, ever, spoke with this person.

On the one-month anniversary of my case being assigned to a specific support person, my I gave up on and called back into the general support number. I told the first person I talked to that I wanted them to own my case from now on. They reviewed my file and gave me an important piece of information: I was talking to the wrong people! The customer assistance center is designed primarily for vehicle information and warranty and service issues. They don't have anything to do with vehicle ordering. They weren't sure who I should be talking to, but suggested Marketing Support.

A single telephone call with marketing support convinced me that they wouldn't be able to help, either. Fortunately, they were forthright about it, and simply told me that GM does not, as a matter of policy, ever offer guarantees on orders. I asked if I could speak to someone at the factory, but they said they didn't know how to contact the factory. Believing I had exhausted all possibilities, I gave up. Convinced that I could not order the vehicle I wanted as a new car, I started looking at used cars, and particularly at the Oldsmobile Aurora.

I also tried to directly contact the factory in Oshawa, Canada where the LaCrosse is built by sending an e-mail to the local autoworker's union (CAW 222), but nothing resulted from that.

A few days later, something interesting happened. I came home from work to discover a message on my answering machine from someone stating they worked in the GM Executive Office. The marketing person I talked to must have been taken aback when I told them that their order policy lost them a sale, and did something wonderful — they contacted someone "higher up" who might be able to help. The customer assistance center should have done this themselves; that I had to go through marketing is itself a flaw in the system.

The person from the executive office did everything correctly as far as customer service is concerned. The message she left gave me her name, phone number, and time when she planned to call back. When we spoke, she was already familiar with my case and said she would investigate. She even told me the names and occupations of the people she was contacting. I learned about the constraint system used by the factory and that there were currently no constraints on the LaCrosse, so it was likely that a re-order would succeed.

Unfortunately, when I pressed the matter, she explained that GM would not offer a guarantee that a re-order would be built correctly. I thanked her for her efforts and told her that I would not re-order without a guarantee, so that GM had lost a sale.

I had already test driven an Aurora and was thinking very seriously about buying it when I got an e-mail from my dealer, who still had the incorrectly-built vehicle in inventory. This e-mail included a specific offer for the incorrectly-built vehicle.

I decided that because I wasn't getting anywhere with GM, and because I had mixed feelings about the Aurora, and because the vehicle wasn't wrong in any fundamental sense (the steering wheel controls are redundant), and because the price was attractive, and because I was tired of this whole mess, that I would buy the vehicle that was already here.

This was the best outcome for everyone involved. I got a mostly-correct vehicle at a great price, the dealership sold a vehicle that had been sitting on their lot for two months (and never even test driven during that time, I learned), and the factory got "off the hook" by not facing any real consequences for their error. I would have preferred to punish the factory somehow, but that wasn't possible.

Buick makes fine automobiles — I bought one, even after all the trouble I went through — but their customer-hostile "customer assistance [sic] center" and vehicle ordering policies need to change. The next customer will not be as patient as I am. Five months is far too long.

I still have not been offered an explanation for why my vehicle was built incorrectly.

UPDATE 2005-10-31 07:47:21 UTC: I forgot to link to this Dilbert comic which effectively summarizes my experience.

Tiny Island