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More Bad News For U.S. Carmakers

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today, Ford and General Motors announced that over the past three months, they burned through cash at a rate of more than $2 billion a month. At that pace, GM says it might not be able to fund its business by early next year. NPR's Frank Langfitt has our story.

FRANK LANGFITT: America's financial crisis has been filled with numbers bigger than most of us can grasp. So, it's worth taking a moment to consider the figures GM hit investors with today. From July through September, the company blew through almost $7 billion. That means, GM had to spend more than $3 million of its reserves each hour, that's right each hour just to keep the lights on. Kim Korth, a Michigan auto analyst said the company is at risk.

Ms. KIM KORTH (Auto Analyst, Michigan): If this crisis goes much beyond three to four months at the level they've been operating at for the last couple months, they're out of money.

LANGFITT: And what happens when they run out of money?

Ms. KORTH: That would be catastrophic. They would have to declare - they would have to go into bankruptcy.

LANGFITT: The problem is this, auto sales have collapsed. Most people don't want to buy big ticket items in a recession and those who still do have trouble getting loans because of the credit crunch. Faced with plummeting demand, some businesses might just slash cost overnight but GM and Ford can't. Korth says they're huge industrial companies with big expenses and legally binding union contracts.

Ms. KORTH: Even if you decided to shut down a plant or layoff a number of people which they've done in various areas, it still has cost, that could help you a year from now but it actually adds more cash requirements in a short term.

LANGFITT: GM CEO Rick Wagoner said today his company has no intention of filing for bankruptcy but he also insisted that the Detroit three need a $25 billion government loan to survive the recession. And in an interview with CNBC, he said GM needs the money soon.

Mr. RICK WAGONER (CEO, General Motors): I think it's critical that we move fast. And I hope that Congress takes it up immediately.

LANGFITT: Many ordinary people opposed bailing out Detroit. They say the companies contributed to their problems by making strategic blunders. But Wagoner said letting GM fail would cause much bigger damage across the economy and he invoked the government's decision to let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt as a cautionary tale. Letting Lehman go is now widely seen as a big mistake that deepened and broadened the financial crisis.

Mr. WAGONER: You know, I think the lesson from Lehman is the very important time in difficult times we're in really requires policy makers to try to be ahead of the problem rather than reacting to the problems.

LANGFITT: Wagoner and his fellow executives at Ford and Chrysler made their case to house speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday. Ron Gettelfinger, head of the United Auto Workers was at the meeting too. In addition to a $25 billion loan, Gettelfinger also pressed for another $25 billion so the companies can fulfill their healthcare obligations to the union. Congressman Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat acknowledged that the companies have made mistakes but he also says they'd made the changes they need to survive.

Representative SANDER LEVIN (Congressman, Michigan): The big three has made clear that once they get passed this period they really believe they've got the quality, they've got what it takes to produce the cars of today and the future.

LANGFITT: The Detroit auto makers are asking for the loans in an economic stimulus bill speaker Pelosi wants to pass in a lame duck session later this month. Levin said he was hopeful it would happen but so far, Pelosi has made no promises. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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