STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Today, General Motors will set the share price for its initial public offering, or IPO, on the New York Stock Exchange. That IPO takes place tomorrow. Investor interest has been surprisingly strong and market watchers expect GM to announce a higher share price than originally planned. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton says this IPO amounts to the beginning of a new General Motors, a company that's going to try to shed government ownership and also shed some of its own legacy.
TRACY SAMILTON: James Lee sells cars at Mark Chevrolet in Wayne, Michigan. Today, he's hoping to close a sale with a customer interested in GM's newest small car, the Chevy Cruze.
Lee wants the car spotless, so he goes over to the car wash garage to check on the guys.
Unidentified Man: That's it.
(Soundbite of knocking)
Mr. JAMES LEE (Car Salesman, Mark Chevrolet): Good morning, how are you.
Unidentified Man: All right.
Mr. LEE: How you doing?
Unidentified Man: Good.
Mr. LEE: Is it almost ready?
Unidentified Man: Yeah, I just got to clean that inside of the window.
Mr. LEE: OK.
SAMILTON: The reality is, sales are still slow, and not just for GM. Customers are only gradually returning to showrooms. But Lee himself is pretty bullish on GM. He's even thinking he'll take some of his own money and invest in the IPO.
Mr. LEE: I think the market's going to go up for General Motors. You know, they're doing good overseas, and coming out with some real strong product. It's going to take off and do good, 'cause if I buy now, you know, I figure in about three, four years, it will at least double - if not triple.
SAMILTON: As a small investor, it's unlikely Lee will get a chance at the IPO. But some big investors appear to share his optimism, and be undaunted by the specter of last year's bankruptcy, a bankruptcy that made GM stock virtually worthless for hundreds of thousands of investors.
Make no mistake, GM's near death experience still hurt a lot of people, even those with just a passing association with the company. People like Darnell Wilson who used to work for GM. He's brought his son to Mark Chevrolet to look at that Chevy Cruze.
Mr. DARNELL WILSON: I try to rationalize, and say well, we never know, we had to do what we had to do in order to survive it. It was painful, because I felt like a lot of people could possibly lose their jobs. But I was glad to see them come out as fast as they did.
SAMILTON: No one knew how customers would react to the bankruptcy. Sure, it slashed the company's staggering debt load, reduced labor costs and shut plants. But it came with the huge risk that even GM loyalists would flee. That didn't happen, and in fact, GM's latest cars are attracting new customers.
Chris Cabana is general manager of Mark Chevrolet. He says the old GM made a lot of cars that were hard to sell. Now it's a different story.
Mr. CHRIS CABANA (General Manager, Mark Chevrolet): We don't have to compare, you know, interior dimensions between this vehicle and that vehicle, there is no I mean it's - they sell themselves.
SAMILTON: The improvement in GM's outlook is not just in the U.S. GM was the first company to break the 2 million sales mark in China. But auto industry consultant Jim Hall says maintaining that momentum won't be easy.
Mr. JIM HALL (Auto industry consultant): The idea that the IPO means it's all done and GM is out of the out of the woods, isn't true.
SAMILTON: Hall says the real specter haunting GM isn't the bankruptcy, it's the company's old culture. For decades, GM leaders protected internal fiefdoms at the expensive of the core business. The old GM sold cars with quality issues at a loss, just to protect its market share. In the end, it lost the market share anyway.
Hall says the new GM has to stick with the basics. Make good quality cars that people want, and sell them at a profit.
Mr. HALL: GM is in a position now where it can reassume that philosophy if they want to and we're going to see what happens.
SAMILTON: As for the IPO, investor interest is stronger than even Steve Rattner expected. He was President Obama's former head of the auto task force and the man who shepherded GM through bankruptcy in record time. Earlier this week, Rattner predicted the government could sell all its GM stock within two years. And he believes taxpayers could see a return of almost all their $43 billion investment in GM.
For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton in Ann Arbor.