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GM Launches CLEAN Initiative, California Dealers Worry About Coronavirus Liability

Jack R. Nerad | May 14, 2020

As many sections of the United States endeavor to get back to work, General Motors has announced an initiative to enable its dealers to do just that. The General Motors CLEAN program is designed to give consumers greater peace of mind when entering a GM brand dealership, while at the same time helping dealers do all they can to combat COVID-19. But some California GM dealers have pushed back against the voluntary initiative, fearing that it will open them up to liability claims.

The General Motors CLEAN program

Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC dealers who enroll in the CLEAN program agree to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) disinfectant guidelines as they clean their facilities. They will also use CDC-approved procedures and Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleansers for the cleaning of new and used vehicles in stock as well as customers' vehicles that are serviced at the facilities. 

"With all of the uncertainty in today's world, we know that our customers' expectations have changed and that more will need to be done to meet those expectations," Barry Engle, executive vice president and president, GM North America, said in a statement. "As a result, our engineering, service and sales teams have worked closely with our dealer network to develop a program that follows best practices regarding the delivery of new, used, or serviced vehicles."

Because it is designed to allay customer fears as businesses re-open, dealers who enroll in the program are expected to communicate their participation in the CLEAN initiative to customers through point-of-sale materials and other customer-facing messaging. The initiative is already being touted on the various GM brand websites, and GM is expected to promote the program with a marketing campaign.

Despite the fact the program is voluntary, the California New Car Dealers Association has pushed back against the plan. In a letter the association sent to GM, it suggested the initiative could make participating dealers liable should coronavirus cases and/or contamination be found at their dealerships. It also argued that GM dealers who failed to sign up for the program could be put at a competitive disadvantage versus other GM dealers who did sign up for the initiative. Legal counsel for the dealer association said it admired GM's efforts to avoid the spread of coronavirus, but believes "there are a number of reasons why the agreement should not be signed."

General Motors reportedly has given its dealers a deadline of May 15 (tomorrow) to join the initiative, hoping to be able to promote the program to car shoppers this weekend. 

Most California car dealers are open for sales and service business, able to conduct in-person operations as long as they follow strict guidelines set forth by the state and local regions. The guidelines pertain to employee screening, wearing of face masks, social distancing, and building occupancy limits. They are also able to conduct online sales, and to deliver new vehicles to personal residences.

While the California New Car Dealers Association has warned its dealer-members about the potential of liability that could occur from participating in the initiative the language communicated to consumers on the GM brand websites offers the dealers some legal leeway.

The description of the program on the Chevrolet.com website says, "As part of the Chevy Clean Program, participating dealers commit to follow CDC guidelines regarding the cleaning of facilities and vehicles. Neither the Chevy Clean Program nor a dealer's enrollment in the Program should be deemed to state or imply that any dealer's cleaning activities can eliminate or prevent transmission of any virus, illness or disease. Each dealer is independently operated and solely responsible for adherence to Program rules and CDC guidelines. Cleaning methods may vary."

There have been no reports of dealer associations in other states or localities speaking out against the GM CLEAN program. As the nation heads toward the Memorial Day holiday, one of the biggest car-buying weekends of the year, dealers want to be ready to welcome customers safely and with confidence.

The information in this article came from General Motors, the CDC, the state of California, and other sources. It was accurate on May 14, 2020 but may have changed since that date. Confirm with your GM dealer that it is participating in the CLEAN program.

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