NPR logo

A Fateful Day Looms For Automakers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Fateful Day Looms For Automakers


A Fateful Day Looms For Automakers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Tomorrow is expected to be a remarkable day in American industrial history. A judge in New York plans to rule on a critical sale that would launch Chrysler out of bankruptcy, and on the same day, General Motors, once the world's dominant automaker, is almost certain to file for bankruptcy in the same courthouse.

NPR's Frank Langfitt covers the auto business and is here. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: Tell us the latest on GM, and what's actually expected to happen tomorrow?

LANGFITT: Well, the latest is yesterday more GM bondholders signed on on this offer to swap debt for shares in the company. That's going to help make bankruptcy easier, but it's not going to stop it. GM's still expected to file tomorrow electronically for Chapter 11 protection down in the southern district of New York. That's a courthouse in lower Manhattan.

Now, in the morning, President Obama's going to announce the filing and the government's plans for General Motors. Then probably around noon or so, GM CEO Fritz Henderson, he's going to have a news conference in New York and explain the company's plans to restructure and basically get out of bankruptcy as fast as they can.

HANSEN: Briefly, remind us, why is the company filing for bankruptcy?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, it's loaded down with so much debt - it owes at least $60 billion - that includes what it owes retirees for health care. And it just doesn't have the revenues. Go back to last summer - gas hit four bucks a gallon - that clobbered this sort of heavy strategy with SUVs and trucks that GM had.

And then when the recession hit, all auto sales for GM, and a lot of other companies were wiped out, as well. So the company basically ran out of money and the only reason it's still operating is because we, the American taxpayers, have been giving the company more cash.

Now, the strategy is to get rid of most of that debt in court, come out and essentially have a second chance. And I think it's important to remember that Chapter 11 is designed to save companies, not kill them.

HANSEN: So, how much is this going to cost taxpayers, and are there any hopes of getting that money back?

LANGFITT: Well, we've already spent about $20 billion to keep this company alive, essentially, and it looks like at least another 30 billion more. In bankruptcy, that's going to cover lawyers' fees, keep the lights running, close down some factories.

Now, the U.S. and the Canadian government are going to come out owning, at least initially, more than 70 percent of GM. Yesterday, The Washington Post said Treasury thought that we might get this money back in five years, but most analysts think that that's really extremely optimistic. Keep in mind - the math right now, all the stock in this company is worth less than a billion dollars. And GM's been losing market share for a really long time. So, to get all that money back, GM stock would actually have to grow in value to well beyond 50 billion - and that would be a stunning turnaround.

HANSEN: Given that the American taxpayers are essentially GM's financiers, is that changing people's attitudes toward the company?

LANGFITT: Well, I think this is going to be a really interesting question going forward. If you go back to December, when GM first asked for the loans, there was huge public opposition. A lot of people wanted the company to collapse. Now, we as taxpayers are going to have a direct financial stake in the company's success.

And if we want any, you know, some of that money or a lot of that money back, GM actually has to do well. Now, of course, if GM does badly, people are going to be even angrier with the company.

HANSEN: NPR's Frank Langfitt covers the auto industry. And thanks a lot for coming in today, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Liane.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. 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.