Do Consumers Care About Another Staggering General Motors Recall?

Despite an amount that already exceeds 20 million vehicles recalled in North America, General Motors' sales continue to rise.

Jun 17, 2014 at 6:20PM

General Motors' headquarters in Detroit. Source: General Motors.

Roughly one month ago I wrote an article outlining what to expect as General Motors' (NYSE:GM) recall saga continued. One answer was simple: Expect many more recalls in 2014. However, it didn't seem possible that America's largest automaker could continue its disastrous recall count at such a rapid pace -- but unfortunately it has. Here are the details surrounding the latest recall, and a look at the implications for General Motors' second-quarter results.

By the numbers
Late yesterday, General Motors announced that it would recall an additional 3.4 million vehicles in North America because certain things could move the vehicles' ignition switch out of the run position. It's essentially the same issue that began the entire recall saga in January and has been linked to at least 54 crashes and 13 deaths. Even those figures are debatable, as trial lawyers claim the death toll to be more than 60.

This increases General Motors' tally this year to 44 individual recalls that cover more than 17.7 million vehicles in the United States alone, and more than 20 million vehicles in North America.

If you need a little perspective on how large those numbers are, consider that the entire industry recalled 21.9 million vehicles in the U.S. throughout 2013. The entire automotive industry's worst year recorded for recalls was 2004: nearly 31 million vehicles in the United States. Six months into the year and General Motors is on pace to recall more vehicles than the entire industry's worst year on record, by itself.


GM CEO Mary Barra testifies before a Senate subcommittee. Source: General Motors.

Costs balloon
Similar to the first round of ignition-switch recalls, when GM's initial recall cost estimate nearly quadrupled to a $1.3 billion charge in the first quarter, expenses continue to balloon in the second quarter. General Motors estimated about a month ago that it would take a $400 million charge for costs associated with the recalls in the second quarter and that has now increased to $700 million.

So far this recall saga will eat at least $2 billion from General Motors' profit this year, and that's only measuring direct effects. It is nearly impossible to gauge the impact this could have on the company's already battered brand image.

Furthermore, General Motors recently reported that it had fixed only 154,731 of the nearly 2.6 million vehicles covered in the initial recall. While the remaining repairs have likely been factored into GM's recent $700 million cost estimate, it also leaves a lot of unfixed vehicles where a number of problems, such as a part shortage, could easily send costs higher.

Does anybody care?
Perhaps the most stunning thing is how little effect all the negative publicity is having on General Motors' sales. Just last month General Motors recorded its best month of U.S. automotive sales since August 2008, a significant 13% increase from May 2013.

"It's remarkable how disconnected the buying public is from this story," said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, according to Bloomberg. "It doesn't seem to have affected sales at all."

Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst and director of pricing and industry analysis, agreed: "Despite the overwhelming amount of attention placed on the GM recalls in May, car shoppers don't seem to be holding anything against GM brands."

It's possible consumers don't realize which automotive brands are under General Motors' umbrella. I've heard many consumers quip they won't be buying a GM vehicle, but those same people may not realize that in addition to Chevy and GMC, GM also owns Buick and Cadillac. Or perhaps consumers are giving "New" General Motors the benefit of the doubt and chalking these massive recalls up to mistakes made during a previous General Motors era. Either way, sales have yet to be negatively affected and we'll have to wait and see if consumers' attitudes regarding GM and its recalls reverse later this year.

Foolish takeaway
I'm a General Motors shareholder and, underneath all of the negatives that this recall debacle has brought on, believe there is an intriguing investment opportunity. However, that opportunity is only for investors who believe CEO Mary Barra is truly changing the company for the better and are are willing to hold GM for the long term. One thing is for sure, and it becomes more evident with every additional recall, this story is far from over. 

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Daniel Miller owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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