The Cost of Recalls and Lost Goodwill

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2014

Economics 101

Manufacturers make a Point of not Killing their Customers because it’s just Bad for Business

There have been some costly recalls in the news lately.  From yoga pants that were see-through.  To cars with faulty ignition switches that can turn the engine off while driving.  Disabling the power steering and airbags.  Resulting in the loss of life.  These recalls have cost these companies a lot of trouble.  Including financial losses from the recalls and lawsuits.  Being called to testify before Congress.  And possible criminal charges.

No surprise, really.  As those who distrust corporations would say.  For they believe they constantly put their customers at risk to maximize their profits.  Even if it results in the death of their customers.  Which is why we need a vigilant government to keep these corporations honest.  So they can’t sell shoddy and dangerous goods that can kill their unsuspecting customers.  Which they will do if the government doesn’t have strong regulatory powers to stop them.  Or so says the left.

Of course, there is one problem with this line of thinking.  Dead customers can’t buy things.  And when word spreads that a corporation is killing their customers people don’t want to be their customers.  Because they don’t want to be killed.  Manufacturers know this.  And know the price they will pay if they kill their customers.  So manufacturers make a point of not killing their customers.  Because it’s just bad for business.

The Longer it takes to Recall a Defective Product the Greater the Company’s Losses

Manufacturing defects happen.  Because nothing is perfect.  And when they happen they are both costly and a public relations nightmare.  As no manufacturer wants to lose money.  And, worse, no manufacturer wants to lose the goodwill of their customers.  Because it’s not easy earning that back.  Which is why executive management wants to acknowledge and resolve these defects as soon as possible.  To limit their financial losses.  And limit the loss of their customers’ goodwill.

Let’s illustrate this with some numbers.  Let’s assume a company manufactures 5 product lines ranging from low price to high price.  The lowest priced product has the greatest unit sales.  And the lowest margin. The highest priced product has the fewest unit sales.  And the highest margin.  The other three items fall in between.  Rising in price.  And falling in margin.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Gross Margin per Product Line R1

So each product line produces a sales revenue, a cost of sales and a gross margin (sales revenue less cost of sales).  Adding these departmentalized numbers together we can get total sales, cost of sales and gross margin.  And subtract from that overhead, interest expense and income taxes.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Net Profit

So on approximately $5.8 million in sales this company earns $312,414.  A net profit of 5.4%.  Fictitiously, of course.  Not too bad.  That’s when everything is working well.  And they have nothing but satisfied customers.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes manufacturing defects happen.  Which can turn profits into losses quickly.  And the longer it takes to address the defects the greater those losses can be.

Losing the Goodwill of your Customers will end up Costing More than any Product Recall

Let’s say Product 3 suffers a manufacturing defect.  By the time they identify the defect and halt production of the defective product they’ve produced 20% of the total of that product for the year.  Which they must recall.  Limiting their losses to 20% of the total of that product run.  Which they will have to refund the sales revenue for.  But they will have to eat the cost of sales for those defective units.  And despite the company’s quick response to the defective product and providing a full refund to all customers their goodwill suffers from the bad press of the recall.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Recall

Refunding customers for the 20% of the line that was defective reduced net profits from 5.4% to 0.7%.  And when they lose some customers to their defect-free competition they lose some customer goodwill.  Resulting in a 15% drop in sales.  Leaving manufactured product unsold that they have to sell with steep discounting.  Bringing their sales revenue further down while their cost of sales remains the same.  Turning that 0.7% annual profit into a 2.8% loss.  But as time passes they recover the lost goodwill of their customers.  Limiting these losses in this one year.  Now let’s look at what would probably happen if the company had a ‘screw you’ attitude to their customers.  Like many on the left fervently believe.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Loss of Goodwill R1

The company did not recall any of the defective products.  As word spread that this company was selling a defective product sales of that product soon fell to nothing after selling about 50% of the annual production run.  The other half sits unsold.  Even steep discounting won’t sell a defective product.  And seeing how they screwed their customers on the defective products sales fall on their other products (in this example by 30%).  As they don’t want to suffer the same fate as those other customers.  So what would have been only a $159,929 loss with a recall becomes a $1,494,344 loss.  Over nine times worse than what it could have been without a large loss of customer goodwill.  And this is why executive management moves fast to identify and resolve defects.  Because losing the goodwill of their customers will end up costing more than any product recall.  As it can take years to earn a customer’s trust again.


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The Amount of Loss per Chevy Volt Sold is in Dispute but what is Not Disputed is that Each Volt Sold Loses Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 16th, 2012

Week in Review

Some number crunching shows the Chevy Volt to be a disaster.  A Reuters’ article (see below) puts the loss per Volt sold as high as $49,000.  Which GM disputes.  Even former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz wrote an article in Forbes disputing this.  Criticizing the authors of the article for dividing the total Chevy Volt investment by the number of Volts sold to date.  And not the projected sales over the 5 year life of the vehicle.  But if you crunch the numbers over this 5 year period they still aren’t good.  And show a loss that may never be recovered (see Insight: GM’s Volt: The ugly math of low sales, high costs by Bernie Woodall and Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman posted 9/10/2012 on Reuters).

Nearly two years after the introduction of the path-breaking plug-in hybrid, GM is still losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it builds, according to estimates provided to Reuters by industry analysts and manufacturing experts. GM on Monday issued a statement disputing the estimates…

GM’s basic problem is that “the Volt is over-engineered and over-priced,” said Dennis Virag, president of the Michigan-based Automotive Consulting Group…

GM’s quandary is how to increase sales volume so that it can spread its estimated $1.2-billion investment in the Volt over more vehicles while reducing manufacturing and component costs – which will be difficult to bring down until sales increase…

The lack of interest in the car has prevented GM from coming close to its early, optimistic sales projections. Discounted leases as low as $199 a month helped propel Volt sales in August to 2,831, pushing year-to-date sales to 13,500, well below the 40,000 cars that GM originally had hoped to sell in 2012.

Out in the trenches, even the cheap leases haven’t always been effective…

It currently costs GM “at least” $75,000 to build the Volt, including development costs, Munro said. That’s nearly twice the base price of the Volt before a $7,500 federal tax credit provided as part of President Barack Obama’s green energy policy…

The car entered production in the fall of 2010 as the first U.S. gasoline-electric hybrid that could be recharged by plugging the car into any electrical outlet. The Obama administration, which engineered a $50-billion taxpayer rescue of GM from bankruptcy in 2009 and has provided more than $5 billion in subsidies for green-car development, praised the Volt as an example of the country’s commitment to building more fuel-efficient cars…

Before GM resorted to discounting Volt leases, sales were averaging just over 1,500 cars a month. A huge part of that reason was consumer push back over the price, according to Virag of Automotive Consulting.

GM forecasted selling 40,000 cars per year over 5 years.  Before the discounting leases they were selling only 1,500 per month.  At that pace that comes to 18,000 cars per year over 5 years.  If you divide the $1.2 billion by 200,000 (40,000 X 5) cars sold that comes to a projected investment recovery of $6,000 per car sold.  If you divide the $1.2 billion by 90,000 (18,000 X 5) cars sold that comes to a projected investment recovery of $13,333 per car sold.  So the projected loss on their investment based on the current pace of sales over 5 years is $7,333 per Volt sold.  Or a profit margin of NEGATIVE 18.3%.  And that’s without adding any production losses.  The longer it takes to meet sales projections the greater the losses climb.  And the less likely they will ever make money on the Volt.  Even with all the subsidies and tax credits.

The big question is what do the taxpayers get for this massive investment into a car that can’t sell?  It’ll help GM advance technology for the next generation of hybrid car?  But isn’t that something car companies are supposed to be doing anyway?  And should a company that is coming out of bankruptcy protection be experimenting in exotic new technology instead of focusing on selling what people are buying to return to profitability?  So they can raise their stock price so the government can sell their shares of GM stock without a loss to repay the American taxpayer?  GM, and the American taxpayer, would be better off if GM focused on selling their more profitable trucks and SUVs until they repay their taxpayer debt.  Then once they were on more steady financial ground they could explore the exotic technologies.


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