Last Rites: General Motors Corp. is a gasping whale beached and bloodied on the sands of the economic meltdown. Life support from Congress won't do a damn thing unless GM files for reorganization and protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Even then its prospects are grave. It's two buddies, Ford and Chrysler, are caught in the surf wrestling with the same impending tide. Ironic, isn't it, that America's Big Three automakers --their suppliers, their contracts with dealerships, unions, health plans and pensions -- are drowning themselves from the seines of history while the two major foreign competitors, Honda and Toyota, are manufacturing in the U.S. and doing swimmingly? Metaphors aside, it's Darwinian economics. Survival of the fittest. Crass and cruel it may sound, the Big Three are dinosaurs in the free capitalistic market system.
- After 42 years of eroding U.S. market share (53% to 20%), GM produces eight brands of automobiles and trucks; Toyota (19% share) has three and Honda (11%) two.
- GM has about 7,000 dealers, Toyota around 1,450 and Honda about 1,000. Dealers are protected by state law. The cost to reduce them to foreign dealership numbers would be billions and take years.
- GM is contractually required to support thousands of workers in the UAW's "Jobs Bank" program, which guarantees nearly full wages and benefits for workers who lose their jobs due to automation or plant closure. It supports more retirees than current workers. GM will run out of bailout money paying off these obligations before it has a chance to downsize to meet market conditions now enjoyed by its competitors. Like AIG, management would ask for more. And more. And more.
Point. Counterpoint: Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress Tuesday he opposed the bailout even though he said a failed U.S. automaker would not be a "good thing...I don't see this as the purpose of the bailout program" which he said is intended to stabilize jittery financial markets and get lending flowing more freely again. Leading Congressional liberal Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Carl Levin are seeking cash infusion for the automakers in this lame duck session. Even if they can't get a successful vote, they will try again with the new Congress after Jan. 20. But even then, some of the elected new Democrats are casting a cold shoulder on Detroit. According to an article Tuesday on MSNBC:
- Bobby Bright of Montgomery, Ala., comes from a district where Hyundai operates a manufacturing plant and a number of supplier firms employing 6,500. “I don’t look favorably on it at all,” he said. “Generally I came up the hard way and no one ever bailed me out. I always had to stand on my own two feet.”
- Michael McMahon, elected in a Republican scandal -plagued district in Brooklyn, also said he is skeptical. He warned against supplying taxpayer aid to companies “that are not taking the steps to correct themselves.” He added, “In any industry that is hanging on by its fingernails, both management and the workforce are going to have to take cuts in pay, cuts in benefits, to keep it going.”
- Virginia’s Tom Perriello also is leery about the Big Three bailout: “I think we’ve done too much rewarding the status quo instead of rewarding innovation. I’d much rather see a stimulus package that rewards whatever company comes up with a 100 miles-per-gallon car and 40-miles-per-gallon truck first.” Could Hyundai get the prize? “I think we should do it for American companies. I think we want the auto industry in America to be reborn.”