GM program sees dealers taking on way more loaner cars

Given the volume of vehicles we're talking about, this is a significant development for GM's bottom line.

Bring your car into the dealership for service, and you may need a loaner car in exchange. And with so many recalls being carried out, that means a lot of loaners – especially at General Motors dealerships. That could be one of the reasons why GM is massively expanding its loaner fleet program.

While many Chevrolet and Buick- GMC dealerships have an on-site rental car location operated by a third party like Enterprise (which may or may not provide a GM vehicle), others manage their own loaner fleets. But while the range of dealerships operating such fleets was once small, reports Automotive News , the number has been growing rapidly: from the locations responsible for only 20 percent of those brands' sales two years ago to about 90 percent today.

The impetus for that growth comes down to a massive expansion of GM's Courtesy Transportation Program. The initiative encourages dealers to ramp up their loaner fleet to a maximum size determined by GM, with a mix determined by the dealer itself, so that a showroom in Texas can be bolstered with a fleet of pickup trucks and a dealer in California can employ more Volt and Camaro Convertible loaners. The dealership gets a $500 credit for each vehicle its puts in its fleet, and can use those vehicles as loaners for service customers, as multi-day test drivers or to rent out separately.

The vehicles remain in the dealer's fleet for 90 days or 7,500 miles, then they can be sold as used, but with new-car incentives. The dealer gets a fleet of loaners, customers get to use the loaners, try out a new car overnight or buy a barely used car with attractive incentives, and GM gets to clock more sales. But therein lies the kicker: the automaker counts the dispatch of the loaner new vehicle to the dealership as a new-car sale, which could end up distorting its sales figures. Counting loaner vehicles as sold vehicles is something of an industry-standard practice, but given the volume of vehicles we're talking about, this is a significant development for GM's bottom line.

One dealership - Paddock Chevrolet in Kenmore, NY, for example - had no loaner fleet two years ago, but now runs a fleet of 50 vehicles. Multiply that by the 4,000 or so dealers GM has across America and you're talking about the potential for hundreds of thousands of these sorts of sales. But then, not every dealership is going to take part in the program, let alone on that scale. Cadillac, for example, runs its own loaner program. And even some Chevy or Buick-GMC dealers aren't going to take part, preferring to let a company like Enterprise handle the complicated logistics instead. But no matter which way you slice it, GM's going to be moving – if not necessarily selling – a lot of extra metal under this program.

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