General Motors’ Bankruptcy Imminent Within 30 Days

By Chris Haak


gm-logo-smallI really don’t enjoy writing about bad news.  I’d much rather rave about how the exhaust note of a Corvette at full bore made the hair on my arms stand on end, or how passers-by waved and gave me the thumbs-up as I rumbled by in a Dodge Challenger SRT8.  I also pains me to chronicle the end of General Motors as we know it.  I grew up in pretty much an all-GM household.  When I was born three [and a half] decades ago, my father’s job was selling new Chevrolets and Cadillacs.  My first ten or so cars (the count is difficult to keep, since my father is now self-employed in the car business and the line between “my car” and “a car in inventory that I drove for a while” was pretty blurry at times) were all GM vehicles.  Then, the first three new cars that my wife and I bought were, in order, a Honda, a Nissan, and a Toyota.  Last summer I came back to the GM fold for my own car, a 2008 Cadillac CTS.  Bottom line:  I’ve always held a soft spot in my heart for this company, in spite of some of the absolutely dreadful products that they’ve sold to the public over the years.  But why would I?

GM is already just a shell of its former self.  The company is already very much under the control of the federal government, as evidenced by the way the government showed the door to former CEO Rick Wagoner, and more recently, by the way GM’s latest debt offering proposed giving the government a 50% stake in the company in return for forgiving $10 billion in loans, but giving bondholders a measly 10% stake in return for forgiving about $24 billion in debt.  That last part is what has bondholders up in arms; they rightfully feel that they are being treated unfairly, and are quite unlikely to accept the terms of GM’s debt-for-equity exchange offer by the deadline at 11:59 EST on May 26, 2009.  The US Treasury (of course) will have the final say, but GM believes that ninety percent of outstanding debt by value will have to be tendered for the offer to be considered a success.  That is extremely unlikely to happen.

So what happens when the clock strikes midnight just a minute after the tender offer’s expiration date and turns to May 27?  GM will have three more business days, plus a weekend, to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  At that point, all bets are off.  The government will provide debtor-in-possession financing to continue operations, but plants will close, models may be eliminated, dealers will be culled, employees will lose their jobs, suppliers may fall like dominos, and basically all hell will break loose.  And then it gets even more interesting.

Even if a bankruptcy judge changes the terms of a bankruptcy exit to be more favorable to GM’s debtholders, the bottom line is that both the government and the UAW will own significant stakes in the company.  That scenario creates some interesting potential conflicts.  The government wants to recover taxpayer money, preserve jobs, increase fuel economy, and get out of the car business.  The union wants to preserve jobs and benefits.  Preserving jobs and recovering taxpayer money may be mutually exclusive objectives, since keeping excess staff on hand means that the company’s costs will be higher than necessary, and making the taxpayers’ repayment take longer.  Depending on the price of gasoline, increasing fuel economy in a cheap-gas scenario might be contrary to the company’s success as well.  Nobody wants to pay too much to fuel their car, but Americans have notoriously short memories, hybrid and small-car sales are way down, and Americans love big, powerful, expensive cars.  In other words, Americans love exactly the kind of cars that will be difficult to keep in the lineup if CAFE standards go beyond 35 miles per gallon, as California and her allies are pushing for.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece this morning in which it analyzed additional potential conflicts inherent in government ownership of a company that it also regulates.  The WSJ piece also offered some hints as to just how long the US government might own GM.  While some are advocating for a quick sale, a more likely scenario is to hold the company for a few years until auto sales rebound and the company is on a more firm footing.  While that would keep the government in the car business longer than many would like, it also would theoretically fetch a more attractive price, which would benefit taxpayers.  Some analysts have pointed to the government’s 11-year ownership of Conrail, which it owned from 1976 to 1987, as a possible model for its ownership of a majority of GM.  Either way, don’t expect to see many new fun, big-horsepower, gearhead-friendly cars from GM for the next decade or two.

Is it too late to become a Blue Oval fan?  I never thought that day would come, but if Ford is still selling interesting products like the Shelby GT500, I may have to reconsider my loyalties.  Interesting times, indeed.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. The ownership of Conrail now split between CSX and Norfork Southern was ok. But others might think of British Leyland and how it ended, Renault was also nationalized but for others reasons after World War II until its was privitazed during the early 1990s (although the French gouvernment still own a stake of 10-15% of Renault)

    I’m prepared and not surprise to read the next future chapter of GM history, being a target of a takeover, by a Chinese/Indian automaker, Renault-Nissan as they once attempted in 2006 with help of “Captain Kirk” Kerkorian Fiat is interested to Opel with Magna or some new comer coming from nowhere.

  2. It’s never too late to become a Ford fan!

    GM’s demise is the culmination of a million self-inflicted wounds. It wasn’t Toyota/Honda who did the deed, it was Rick Wagoner, it was Roger Smith, it was Ron Zarrella, it was Bob Lutz, it was dozens –if not hundreds– of GM execs who refused to change, refused to see that things had changed.

    It was the fault of the first GM exec to dismiss the embryonic presence of the first Toyopet to make it ashore. It was the fault of the GM bean-counter who said, “Hey, we can make a mint if we cut a few corners here and there!” or said, “You know, a small Cadillac built off the X-car platform, that would be great. But let’s not spend too much money changing it from the Citation.”

    It was the fault of the GM engineer who knew that two decades’ worth of Chevy/GMC vans suffered all kinds of rust around the windshield –and never bothered to fix it. (How hard could drilling a few drain holes be?) It was the fault of the Pontiac engineer who couldn’t build the Fiero right from the start.

    It was the fault of the UAW worker who decided that “good enough” was just too much effort –and it was the fault of the GM plant manager who let the UAW get away with their shit.

    It was also the fault of the various Presidents, Senators and Representatives who kept deferring on making a comprehensive, forward-looking national energy policy –all the people want is cheap gas, right? And, so, thinking that cheap gas was a God-given right of the American people, it was the fault of GM execs who pushed the development of guzzling but profitable Hummers at the expense of a true (but low/no profit) Civic-fighter.

    It is not the fault of the American car buyer, who has that God-given right to direct his/her funds to the carmaker(s) whose product(s) float their boat.

    Good riddance, GM!

  3. This is just another leech feeding on the American public. Just like Chrysler today, GM is going to require bankruptcy and then a lot more money in order to be a real company again, and when that happens,, they’re going to be a lot smaller, so you have to ask, is it even worth it.

  4. There is no longer any guessing about this now that Chrysler declared bankruptcy.

    GM was big and now they’re small.

  5. Your 30 days is up real soon, so we’ll see if you are right.

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