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DETROIT — Consumers looking for a used vehicle aren’t shying away from General Motors Co. models — even though more than 20 million GM cars and trucks have been recalled this year.
General Motors cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu have retained or increased in value, sometimes more than rival vehicles. And sales of new cars aren’t slowing either, up 13 percent in May. GM has issued 44 recalls in North America this year for parts ranging from ignition switches to air bags.
The most serious is for ignition switches in 2.6 million small cars linked to more than 50 crashes and at least 13 deaths. Investigations into that recall have exposed GM as a company that was too slow to react to serious safety issues.
In the past, consumers punished automakers for big recalls. Those companies lost market share — Toyota’s dropped 2 percentage points over 12 months when it recalled 14 million cars for unintended acceleration. Yet GM’s market share has held fairly steady so far, around 18 percent.
General Motors has cautioned that an ongoing companywide safety review could produce even more recalls — just Monday it recalled 3.4 million more cars for a separate ignition switch issue — so consumers might still decide it’s smarter to buy their wheels elsewhere.
But for now, experts say, GM has retained buyers’ confidence by appearing to act quickly on safety matters — even though GM’s internal investigation into the small-car switch recall showed that employees took years to realize they had a safety problem on their hands.
“People are associating that with being vigilant more than being careless,” said Larry Dominique, president of ALG, formerly Automotive Lease Guide, whose data is used by dealers to set values of leased cars.
That could explain why the value of the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu rose almost 3 percent from February, when the recalls started, through May, according to ALG. That compares with midsize cars as a whole, which dropped in value by 1 percent. The Malibu has been part of five recalls this year.
The value of most other used GM cars also rose. The exception: The Chevrolet Cobalt, which is at the heart of the first ignition switch recall. About 1 million Cobalts are being recalled. Of the 13 deaths General Motors counts, nine occurred in Cobalts.
ALG says the value of 2010 Cobalts dropped 2.4 percent from February through May, but the compact car segment’s value rose almost 3 percent. Falling values have triggered lawsuits from Cobalt owners.
That doesn’t mean the cars won’t sell. At L.A. Sales in Oyster Bay, N.Y., on Long Island, part-owner Andy Kaufman recently sold a 2005 Cobalt for just under the $5,000 he was asking. The buyer, he says, had no concerns once Mr. Kaufman showed him the switch had been replaced.
Experts say the volume of recalls has taken away some of the fear factor.
“I’m beginning to wonder if the consumer is almost numb to the next headline that comes out,” says Ricky Beggs, a senior vice president of Black Book, which also monitors used car prices.
GM CEO Mary Barra has repeatedly apologized for the injuries and loss of life. She makes a return trip to testify on Capitol Hill today.
One thing that has helped GM is that the recalled small cars — the Cobalt, Saturn Ion, and Sky, Pontiac G5 and Solstice, and Chevy HHR — are no longer made.
And GM’s newer cars score much higher in quality surveys.