The Sorry Tale of How Corbin Jerked Me Around

Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 00:36:15 -0700
From: Uncle Kridley 
Subject: obtaining warranty service
i spoke to you on the 7th regarding my ongoing difficulties getting
warranty service for my sparrow (#173).  you assured me that someone
would contact me the following monday to schedule a pick-up.  on
monday morning, my wife took a call from janet; janet wasn't clear on
where our town was in relation to the available drivers, so she said
that she would call back first thing the next morning (the 11th).  as
of thursday evening we had not heard from her (we were unavailable
friday, and our answering machine was mistakenly turned off).
i have been trying to get satisfaction since the second week of july,
and my car has been sitting in the driveway since then.  for two
corbin has failed to return my calls, and i am disgusted.  please call
me at 707.433.0419, so we can schedule a pick-up for the car.
i will send a separate email detailing the problems with my car.
thank you.

      dirk bergstrom 

From: Uncle Kridley 
Subject: problems with sparrow #173
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 01:16:54 -0700


per our discussion of 9-7-2001, here is a description of the problems
i've had with my sparrow, listed in increasing order of severity.

vin #173, delivered 4-20-01 by philip armor of darwin motors.  driven
a total of 264 miles; hasn't been driven since 7-10-01 (but has been
charging ~30 minutes/day since then).

*) one (or more?) of the brake shoes seems to be dragging
 intermittently.  after a mile or two of driving, i get an unpleasant
 rhythmic squealing, which goes away briefly if i step on the brakes.
 it is loud and quite irritating.

*) when the car was delivered, philip and i noted that the left
 armrest moves in and out when the left window goes up and down.  this
 doesn't seem to present any problems, but it looks to me like
 something needs adjustment.

*) when the car was delivered, the charging cord was miswired (it was
 the first one with the 4-prong cord that philip had delivered).  when
 we plugged it in, the car wouldn't charge.  i rewired the cord
 correctly, and the car would charge.  however, the car charges fine
 on a standard outlet, but always trips GFI outlets.  if i put a 3-2
 adapter on the plug, it still trips the outlet.  if i plug a standard
 cord into the plug on the zivan (under the hood), or if i put
 *another* 3-2 adapter in between the zivan and the car (between the
 two yellow plugs under the hood), i can charge thru a GFI outlet.  i
 discussed this with someone at corbin in may, and he believed that
 the miswired cord had fried a relay.  he sent me a new relay, but i
 was unable to find the time to install it.  i'll leave the relay in
 the car when you pick it up.

*) at ~220 miles, about fives miles into my commute, i noticed that
 the brake warning light was on.  i pulled over, and examined the car
 -- plenty of brake fluid, no drips, brakes were working fine, parking
 brake not on, parking brake microswitch appeared to be adjusted
 correctly.  i reset all the connections to the brake fluid sensor and
 brake pedal switch.  no dice, the warning light stayed on.  finally,
 i turned the car off for a minute or two.  when i turned the car back
 on, the warning light was off.  i carefully drove away, and the light
 didn't come back on.  however, when i drove home that night, the
 warning light came on again, after about five miles of driving.
 since then, this has happened every time i drive more than five or so

*) when the car had ~200 miles on it, while i was driving down the
 street, someone pulled up next to me and told me that i had no brake
 lights.  i spent half an hour or so going over the car, before
 finding that one of the white wires in the harness under the dash
 (near the steering column) was not inserted all the way into the
 connector.  pushing the wire firmly into the connector and
 reconnecting it solved the problem.

*) when i took delivery, i noted that the steering wheel was not quite
 centered (ie. the wheel was slightly rotated when the car was
 travelling in a straight line).  as time went on, it moved farther
 off center.  finally, i realized what was going on, and i looked
 under the car.  the locknut on the left-hand tie-rod is loose,
 allowing the alignment to drift.  furthermore, the locknut on the
 lower suspension arm is loose on both sides of the car.

when i discovered the final problem, i decided it was time to park the
car and have corbin take it in for a thorough checkup.  any one of the
last three problems would be cause for serious concern, but all three
of them, on a car with only 264 miles, is extremely troubling.  they
indicate a lack of proper quality control, and lead me to speculate
that other, less obvious, problems lurk.

i would like to have corbin pick up the car, take it to the factory,
and examine it *very* carefully.  

thank you.

      dirk bergstrom 

Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 13:58:48 -0700
To: Uncle Kridley 
From: Mark Phelps 
Subject: Re: obtaining warranty service
In-Reply-To: <>
Mr. Bergstrom,
I have not forgotten you.  Your car is on the list for pick ups. We
will not have a driver until next week, so this week will be
difficult. I will ask Janet to fallow up with you later this
week. Please be patient we will get to you .  Thank you.

From: Uncle Kridley 
Subject: a very dissatisfied customer
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 19:25:36 -0700

dear mr. corbin:

i am writing to you because i am extremely unhappy with the treatment i
have been receiving from your staff.  i have been trying to get
warranty service for my sparrow for three months, with nothing but
frustration to show for it.

my sparrow, #173, was delivered in april.  through may and june i put
just over 250 miles on the car, encountering several minor, but
worrisome, problems.  in the first week of july i discovered a serious
problem with the front suspension, at which point i decided to stop
driving the car, and have it serviced under warranty (see below for a
detailed description of the problems).

in the week of july 9, i called corbin, and asked to speak to someone
about my car.  no one was available, so i left a message.  as i had
just bought a house, i was too busy to pursue the matter, but after a
week or so went by, i called corbin again, and again left a message.
more time passed, and i left a third message, explaining that i had
called previously, and was not happy.  still i received no reply.

finally, on my fourth call, in early august (the car had been sitting
in my driveway for a month), i called, and was able to talk to
clare bell.  i very politely described my problems in detail, and
made it clear, without losing my temper, that i was not happy that it
had taken a month to talk to someone.  clare expressed dismay that i
had so much trouble getting service, and assured me that she would
remedy the problem.

she never called again.

on the 7th of september (almost two months after my first call), i
again called corbin, asking to talk to michael d'andrea.  the
receptionist asked who i was, and i replied "an irate customer".  i
was connected to mark phelps, and i proceeded to tell him my tale of
woe and neglect.  he, like clare, expressed dismay, and assured me
that the problem would be taken care of immediately.  since it was
friday afternoon, we agreed that someone (janet) would call me early
on monday to schedule a pickup.  i also told him that i would email a
list of the problems i had with the car (see below).

on monday (the 10th of september), my wife took a call from janet,
who seemed a bit confused as to where we lived (healdsburg, in sonoma
county), and how close it was to sacramento, where she evidently had a
scheduled pickup.  realizing that we were not very close to
sacramento, she said that she would call back first thing the next
morning to schedule a pickup.  we never heard back from her.

on september 17th, i sent a message to mark (see below), and asked
what had happened.  he replied that afternoon, promising a call within
a week, and said "Please be patient we will get to you".

it's been over a month, i heard nothing from corbin.

sir, i have been *more* than patient.  i have given your company over
fourteen thousand dollars, and you have given me two months of
troubled driving (a mere 264 miles), and three months of the most
infuriating treatment i have ever had the displeasure of receiving
from a company.

were i to get this level of grief from a major car manufacturer, i
would be appalled and shocked.  to get it from a small company, one
that relies on word-of-mouth advertising and customer testimonials, is
simply unbelievable.  how do you expect to remain a going concern if
you utterly alienate your customers?  how can you, as an executive,
let this sort of thing happen?  you sold me a vehicle with egregious
and dangerous flaws, and then compounded the error by botching the
customer relationship to an unprecedented degree.

i bought my sparrow because i believed that it was important to
demonstrate that ZEVs were a viable form of transportation.  i
*wanted* to be an advocate, for corbin, and for electric cars in
general.  i didn't need the car -- i was accustomed to commuting by
bike, and i was planning on moving to a full-time telecommuting
position.  i used to happily extol its virtues to everyone who asked.
i was unpaid advertising for corbin.

for the first three months i owned the car it was parked on a busy
street in the heart of silicon valley, hundreds, perhaps thousands of
people saw it every day.  i was constantly talking to strangers,
advertising your product for you.  now i live on a culdesac in the
country, and when the occasional passerby asks about the car, i'm
can only say "it's a great concept, but the company that sold it is
screwing me over".  lucky for you that i moved...

i am writing to present you with an opportunity, the opportunity to
salvage a customer relationship.  i do not want to part ways with
corbin on bitter terms, and i don't particularly want to throw $15,000
down the toilet.  i would rather be satisfied, and i suspect that you,
as a business owner, would rather i be satisfied.

i would like to have corbin pick up my sparrow, take it back to the
factory, and give it a very thorough examination.  i would like you to
adjust or repair anything that is out of spec or damaged, and
carefully test the vehicle afterward, to make sure that it is
functioning properly.

i want to drive my sparrow, and feel safe and comfortable doing so.  i
want my wife to drive it, and i want her to feel safe.  i want to be
comfortable sending my wife out in the sparrow, knowing that it will
get her home without trauma or drama.  i want a car i can be confident
in, or i want my money back.

your product, moldering in my driveway, is valueless, and i insist
that you restore it's value to me, one way or another.  i'd prefer that you
do so by fixing it, but if you cannot, or will not, do that, we will
have to negotiate a fair refund.

i look forward to hearing from you.

dirk bergstrom
319 burgundy rd.
healdsburg, ca 95448

From: dirk bergstrom 
Subject: an even more dissatisfied customer
Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2001 20:42:02 -0800


i am writing to request a refund for sparrow #173.  please contact me
at your earliest convenience, so that we can quickly come to an
agreeable settlement.

i am completely disgusted with corbin motors.  you have so
outrageously exceeded the bounds of acceptable customer service that i
can scarcely believe that you can remain in business.  i waited two
months for your staff to return my calls, and another two months
before anything was done.  i was so irate that i took the time to
write to the president.  a month later, you *still* haven't had the
courtesy to respond.  moreover, it's been two weeks since your driver
picked up my car, and i haven't heard a word from your company.

this is a travesty.  you were more than happy to take $14,000 for the
car, but you seem to think that your obligation ended when the dealer
delivered the car to my driveway.  that's not the case -- you're in
the automobile business, and service is a *big* part of that business.
when you sell a car, you're making an implicit commitment to support
it.  people depend on their cars, they expect them to work reliably.
and when the car breaks down, they expect that the manufacturer will
promptly and courteously repair it.

like it or not, this is the business you're in.  actually, this
*isn't* the business you're in, and therein lies the problem.

i have lost all trust in corbin.  i have no faith that repairs will be
carried out to my satisfaction, and if that is case, i fear that
resolution would take months.  i am no longer comfortable owning your
product, and i would not feel safe driving it.  if you return it to
me, i will have to sell it.  that would be a *very* uncomfortable
process, since i would feel honor-bound to explain why i am selling

it would be much simpler if you would refund my purchase price, minus
a reasonable amount for wear-and-tear (there are only 263 miles on the
odometer, so i expect that this will not be a substantial fraction of
the price).

i look forward to hearing from you.

[please see my previous correspondence with corbin motors, below]

      dirk bergstrom