HOUSTON — A Houston woman has launched a social media and local news campaign aimed at convincing Sterling McCall Toyota and its parent company, Houston-based Group 1 Automotive, to give her a new Toyota Tundra to replace a nine-year-old truck stolen from the dealership’s service department last month.
On Monday, the truck’s owner, Elizabeth McClung, posted a five-minute Facebook Live video that had collected more than 60,000 views and been shared more than 500 times at press time. In the video, McClung claims she has been treated unfairly and urges viewers to like and share her video and contact the dealership to complain on her behalf.
“Instead of protecting the customer and looking out for me and my needs, I’ve been treated pretty poorly. … The way the dealership has been dealing with me has been very much an attitude of ‘Well, sorry for your bad luck. This is your problem,’” McClung says.
The stolen pickup was recovered last week with extensive damage to the exterior and interior. The cabin and bed were full of cleaning equipment, discarded food and beverage containers, drug paraphernalia and traces of crack cocaine. Two men with no apparent connection to the dealership have been charged in the theft.
In an exclusive interview with Auto Dealer Today/F&I and Showroom, Group 1 Vice President Pete DeLongchamps said he has been in close contact with McClung’s attorney and that McClung has appeared unwilling to accept anything less than a new Toyota Tundra as compensation for her nine-year-old truck, which had 195,000 miles on the odometer and required $4,500 in repairs before the theft, according to the dealership.
DeLongchamps said McClung left her truck at Sterling McCall April 10 and ultimately declined the repairs. The theft was discovered when she returned to retrieve the truck on April 18. A review of surveillance video revealed it was stolen in the early-morning hours of April 11, shortly after service staffers unlocked the doors.
“I think that somebody convinced her she could get a brand-new truck because it was damaged so materially,” DeLongchamps said. “Speaking with her attorney, we made her an offer equal to twice what the truck is worth or to fix it, including the repairs she wanted to have done but declined. He said, ‘No, we just want a new truck.’”
Houston’s ABC and NBC affiliates have since picked up the story. McClung did not return a call seeking comment.
Opinions expressed in the comments following the Facebook video and web versions of the news stories appear to be divided. Some viewers sympathize with McClung and criticize the dealership. Others wonder why she is not pursuing compensation through the usual channels or how she would proceed if the truck had been stolen from a Walmart parking lot or a family member’s driveway.
“Her demands were perceived as completely unreasonable. The tide turned against her. The story was not a stolen car in Houston but how she was using crowdsourcing to try to get her way,” said DeLongchamps, adding that he hoped the situation will soon be resolved. “The truck did get stolen out of our shop and I feel bad for her.”
Asked what he hoped dealers would take from the story, DeLongchamps suggested they resist the urge to engage complainants online, try to communicate with aggrieved consumers directly, and never underestimate the power of digital media.
“I think you have to take it seriously, but you have to be very professional. We had one voice, one message,” he said. “In this new era of social media and crowdsourcing, you’ve got to stand up for your business and your shareholders.”