Industry > Mess

How to torpedo your fledgling car brand in 2 easy steps

Poor after-sales and frequent miscommunication

Geely was once the darling of Chinese brands in our country. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about it today. PHOTO FROM GEELY

Imagine you’re a distributor that just got the rights to an up-and-coming car brand. The cars look good, the tech is impressive, the pricing is competitive, but there’s a catch: It’s Chinese. Nothing wrong with Chinese per se, but politics and bad behavior in the West Philippine Sea have left a bad taste in Filipino consumers’ mouths—on top of a sketchy reputation brought upon by previous Chinese-made cars that tended to fall apart.

But the opportunity is too good to resist, and it’s not an insurmountable challenge. Invest in a solid marketing campaign, get your dealers lined up, and just like that Kevin Costner movie: “Build it and they will come.”

So, in a remarkably short span of time—less than four years—said car brand wins over enough buyers to create a critical mass. Positive word-of-mouth spreads and helps convert even more buyers, and as of last year, this brand (according to its corporate website) has posted 52% growth, selling more than 9,000 units and ranking a respectable eighth in industry sales.

Couple that with warmer feelings toward Chinese cars, positive media reviews, and an influx of even more Chinese brands that are giving the Japanese a run for their money, and everything should be roses, yes? As long as the economy is humming, people are in a spending mood, and the cars are competitive, then one can only expect a further improvement in sales.

Except, in the past few days, this has rapidly turned sideways for Geely. What happened?

Other Geely owners are also speaking up about their unfavorable experiences. SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK

It’s not really because of one very irate customer who brought his Coolray in for repairs, but to make matters worse, another Emgrand owner was shocked to find out that his supposedly ‘brand-new’ unit had been repainted. Unless you’ve been offline the past week, all you need to do is search “Geely Philippines Coolray issue,” and you’ll get a very disturbing and relatable video of one customer who can’t get a simple fuel pump replaced without raising a fuss.

No more visible reviews on Geely's Facebook page. SCREENSHOTS FROM FACEBOOK

As of today, the Geely Philippines Facebook page has turned off its Review Ratings tab after seeing its 4.3 rating plummet to 2.0 or thereabouts (it is now down to 1.3).

The latest post dated August 24 promoted an article by another website on the newly launched GX3 Pro, and if you check the reactions, there are at least 1,300 😂⁠, 559 😡⁠, and only 118 👍. The comments section is brutal, full of snide comments about being refurbished units and references to milk tea and Potato Corner.

Good luck selling this car, guys.

The Geely Philippines Facebook page is essentially a warzone at this point. SCREENSHOTS FROM FACEBOOK

Scrolling down older posts gets the same effect as the Facebook mob has taken over. I pity the social-media manager who can only block and delete so many unfavorable comments. YouTube isn’t that much better, as content creators have taken to posting multiple videos about the problem.

How did the brand get here? How could something as promising as Geely—one which anyone would say was the rising star of the industry—find itself in such a mess?

Sadly, this is all on them. Not on customers who have every right to be upset about shoddy after-sales service. Let’s see how it blew up in their face.

The first mistake was not having spare parts immediately available. All cars wear out their parts, and it’s not uncommon for new cars to have defective parts. Recalls have been going on for years, where dealers advise customers to bring in their units to get something replaced free of charge.

In 2021, new Vespa owners got a bad batch of fuel pumps, leading to stalled units out on the road. Vespa Philippines quickly got to work contacting their dealers, replacing the pumps with as little fuss as possible. For Geely’s case, I’m not even sure if it’s a production batch problem or just the guy’s unit (lemon), but a simple fuel pump replacement that takes an hour to do led to four months of waiting (and to no avail).

The Facebook post that started it all. SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK

The second mistake was poor communication or lack thereof. So the customer brought his car in, waited and waited, but no one paid him any attention at the Geely Makati dealership, until he finally had enough and walked out to the parking lot. Lo and behold, his car was baking under the sun, unwashed for several months now, with trash inside and still waiting for the replacement part.

This was the catalyst for that video. Then it went viral, and while this was spreading over the Internet, two things happened: Unhappy owners chimed in about their own experiences, while loyalists took up the cudgels and questioned the disgruntled customer’s motives. It was all very emotional. The Facebook page began to take a beating, and the fire quickly spread.

So what does Geely Philippines do? In public…nothing. No official statement to address or refute the owner’s claims; nothing to assuage potential buyers’ concerns because—while all this was going on—people still continued to browse and window-shop for new-car purchases.

This is the most official statement that the automaker has given, while its page is silent. SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK

Instead, the most “official” thing that Geely Makati (the dealership page) did was share a post by a supposedly unaffiliated “Geely Marites” page, detailing how the Coolray in question was now fixed and everything had been resolved.

This would be kind of acceptable if we were talking about a small business with no experience in corporate communications, but then we also found out that—gasp—the car actually hadn’t been fixed yet, and Geely and the customer had not come to terms.

So, dead silence on the one hand, and then misrepresentation on the other. You can’t make this shit up.

I don’t know about you, but based on my experience working PR in a non-automotive industry segment, you snuff out small fires before they become raging conflagrations. In this day and age of everybody having access to the Internet, it is so important to address each and every customer complaint in a timely manner.

Before the Coolray owner went ahead with his video, his request was quite reasonable: fix the car. And that’s it. It was a secondhand unit, so he wasn’t even screaming “LEMON!!!” Geely Makati took its sweet time with the car, and is now paying the price.

Geely can still turn things around; it is just an uphill battle at this point. SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK

As of press time, I’ve been advised that the customer’s lawyer is talking to Geely Philippines’ lawyer about an amicable settlement, so I hope both parties resolve it soon.

And yet, the damage has been done. By not addressing the problem quickly and definitively, Geely Philippines has also squandered a lot of confidence that erstwhile buyers may have had about buying from them. Remember the Mitsubishi “Sudden Unintended Acceleration” brouhaha? Mitsubishi lost no time in going public about the problem, insofar as admitting that there was a problem without actually admitting that the trucks had a problem.

It’s not a lost cause yet for Geely, but the job just got a lot harder. And it’s not just because of a lousy fuel pump, but because of poor after-sales and messed-up communications.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.