Who wins, who loses in GM bankruptcy

The former auto giant gets a new lease on life, car buyers stand to gain, but President Obama’s popularity could take a big hit.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters
Retired General Motors auto worker Eugene Gains stands next to his truck with a 'Drive American Built With Union Labor' bumper sticker on it outside his UAW union local 735 in Canton, Michigan on June 2.

The company that once controlled more than half the US car market now sports a negative label: "in bankruptcy."

Yet General Motors Corp. stands to come out a winner, making a fresh start that wouldn't have been feasible without a wrenching revamp under the eye of a judge.

If all goes as planned, the GM bankruptcy will last just 60 to 90 days, but the effects will be broad and long-lasting. Not just a new GM but a new US auto industry will emerge.

Here's a reckoning of who may gain or lose in the process, according to economists and industry analysts:


General Motors: The industrial icon gets to clear away big debts with the stroke of a judge's pen. It also has a new investor called the White House, providing both money and a nudge for stakeholders to make concessions. Without that, GM wouldn't have reached this clean-slate moment. But after many Detroit missteps over the years, it's up to the firm's management to make the most of it.

Lawyers: Attorneys will be raking in fees faster than you can say "brief." This is one of the largest bankruptcy filings ever, and even if it's quick, there will still be mountains of paperwork.

Car shoppers: The fact of fewer dealerships could actually raise car prices. But the industry will remain competitive. And lighter corporate debt loads, thanks to restructuring, could allow carmakers to put more focus on customer satisfaction. "The GM that ... let too many of you down, is history," GM chief Fritz Henderson pledges.

Ford Motor Co.: Of the Detroit Three automakers, only Ford has avoided bankruptcy and a federal bailout by restructuring on its own. It is gaining market share. But watch out: Bankruptcy may give GM and Chrysler a cost-structure edge over Ford, which still has big debts to pay.

The economy: Because of $50 billion in government support, job losses will be fewer than they would have been otherwise. Some viable parts of GM will avoid liquidation, and the adjustment will be less chaotic for suppliers. Still, economists at Goldman Sachs figure that the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies will cost about 400,000 US jobs at dealerships, suppliers, and the firms themselves.

Critics, countering that the government-backed bankruptcy is a losing proposition, say American industry would function better with less government intervention - even if that meant losing more automobile jobs.


Auto workers: The once-mighty UAW union accepted pay freezes, a no-strike deal until 2015, and more uncertainty about funding for a retiree healthcare trust. More to the point, thousands of hourly and salaried jobs are disappearing.

Investors: Stockholders in GM will be wiped out, while bondholders are poised to tear up GM's IOUs in return for a small stake in the new firm.

Suppliers: They'd be faring much worse if the government weren't providing the auto industry with support. But the bankruptcies accelerate a shakeout in the supply chain.

Taxpayers: The American public foots the bill and, as a result, will own most of GM. If profitability returns (not as unlikely as it may sound), the government will get something back by selling its stake.

President Obama: Politicians provide leadership, but they also like to make people happy. Let's add up what this government-orchestrated bailout for GM involves: Workers losing jobs, investors losing their shirts, and taxpayers spending when they don't want to. No wonder Mr. Obama's team demanded hard terms for this bailout, to try to get it over with.

Pontiac: Prepare to say goodbye to a storied brand, whose hits included the Bonneville in the 1950s and the GTO muscle car in the 1960s.

GM has also put its Saturn brand name - a creative response to the Japanese invasion - up for sale. You'll still be able to see the USA in a Chevrolet. Or a Buick, GMC, or Cadillac.

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