Friday, 19 November 2021 17:58

Detroit Dealers React to GM Taking Away Heated Seats and Steering Wheels

Written by Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press
2021 Chevrolet Tahoe High Country interior. 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe High Country interior. Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press


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General Motors dealers in metro Detroit face a new challenge to selling cars.

They must inform Michigan car buyers that there'll be no heated seats or heated steering wheels on many 2022 GM models, just as temperatures drop into the 40s and winter is weeks away.


“It’s not ideal. You want to have as many options available to folks as possible," said Paul Zimmermann, vice president and partner of Matick Chevrolet in Redford Township, MI, and Matick Toyota in Macomb. "I get why GM is doing it and I applaud them for finding do-arounds for the problem because 100% of zero is zero."


The problem is getting enough new cars to market amid a global shortage of semiconductor chips. The chips are used in a variety of car parts. The shortage has plagued U.S. car production since February and forced many automakers to build cars minus certain features.


On Nov. 12, GM said it would no longer offer driver and passenger heated seats and heated steering wheels as standard or optional content on certain 2022 model year cars and trims.


GM spokesman David Barnas said the measure is temporary until the chip supplies improve. He said GM tried to limit it and the automaker is looking at ways to add the heated seats and steering wheels to a car buyer's vehicle later when the parts become available.  


While heated seats and steering are desired in cold climates, dealers say the severe shortage of new cars has customers more accepting of losing certain features.


“We haven’t heard any complaints yet, but I’m sure we will," Zimmermann said. "But the reality of where we’re at right now is folks are somewhat desensitized, whether it’s inflation or lack of product across so many industries, from furniture to food. It’s becoming somewhat normal, unfortunately.”


This is not the first feature GM has...

...removed from vehicles because of the chips crisis. In March, GM said it will build certain 2021 light-duty full-size pickups without a fuel management module through the end of the model year. In June, GM said it will build some 2021 full-size, light-duty pickups and SUVs without the Automatic Stop/Start feature. 


"Customers weren’t happy, but they were OK with it," said Gordon Stewart, owner of Gordon Chevrolet in Garden City. "People are happy to get a car right now and will settle for a lot, especially if it’s not marked up ridiculously. People used to be particular about colors. Now, they come in wanting one color and leave with a different color. They’re just happy to have it."


Barnas said GM is seeing a better flow of chips and most of its North American assembly plants have run regular production in recent weeks. Production volumes are increasing in the fourth quarter.


"In fact, several of our plants are running weekend overtime shifts this month, including our midsize truck, full-size truck and full-size SUV plants," Barnas said. "We also expect to see higher volumes in 2022 compared to 2021."


GM has run a strategy this year of directing chip parts to the factories that make its most in-demand and high-profit vehicles such as pickups and big SUVs. That's meant halting production of smaller SUVs and sedans.


The chips shortage remains complex and fluid, Barnas said. That's exactly what makes dealers worry. 


"I’m glad to see a little easing up in the supply chain, but we still have...

...used cars in our new car showroom," Stewart said.


At Matick Chevrolet, used cars also have filled the new car showroom this year.


Typically, there'd be 1,000 new cars parked on Matick's lot. But Zimmermann said he has 65 new vehicles in stock and 60 on the way, which is the best inventory he has had in two months. 


He knows it could be temporary given how fragile the supply chain is. 


"We’re starting to see some proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. But everything seems to be tenuous," Zimmermann said. "If something shuts down in Asia for a political reason or COVID or any reason, it’s a domino effect."


We thank the Detroit Free Press for reprint permission.


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