MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. The current economic downturn poses a whole host of challenges to families, to businesses, to governments. Among the toughest of those challenges is this: how to fix General Motors.
BLOCK: That unenviable task goes to Fritz Henderson, GM's interim CEO. He took over yesterday, after Rick Wagoner was forced out by the Obama administration. Today, Henderson faced the microphones. His assessment: bankruptcy is now more probable for GM as it tries to restructure.
Mr. FRITZ HENDERSON (Interim CEO, General Motors): If we need to resort to it, how do we get in? How do we get out fast? And then how can we work with the various constituencies that are important to General Motors and the Automotive Task Force in order to actually set the table so we can get that done? But important point: We will get the job done.
NORRIS: Fritz Henderson mentioned GM's constituencies there, and that list grows longer every day. In suburban Denver, NPR's Jeff Brady spoke with two important GM players: customers and dealers.
JEFF BRADY: The Medved Autoplex is just about what you'd imagine. Right next to a freeway, there's Chrysler, Suzuki, Cadillac, Hummer. Owner John Medved is standing in the Chevrolet store.
Mr. JOHN MEDVED (Owner, Medved Autoplex): This store, in 2002, was selling 230 Chevrolets a month. Now we're selling about 50 a month.
BRADY: Medved owns eight GM dealerships in all, and he's not happy with the White House move to oust GM CEO Rick Wagoner.
Mr. MEDVED: I guess it wouldn't be any different than shooting the number one hostage and saying we're for real. Either the rest of you get together, or you're going to see what we're going to do next.
BRADY: Medved believes President Obama chose Wagoner as a sacrificial lamb to send a message.
Mr. MEDVED: I think that it's a statement to the union and the bondholders that either you make a deal, or we will pull it into bankruptcy. And then you won't make a decision as to what your pensions are going to be, if there are any at all. We're going to make them. And you won't decide whether your bonds are worth anything. They may be worth nothing.
BRADY: When talking about GM cars, though, Medved remains the optimistic salesman. That's an accomplishment, considering he's trimmed more than half his employees, cut the 401(k) and changed health insurance to save money. On Monday, after President Obama made his announcement, Joan and John Rutherford of Golden bought one of two Chevys sold that day - a metallic black 2009 Malibu. They looked at the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord first, and despite the risk GM could go into bankruptcy, they settled on the Chevy.
Mr. JOHN RUTHERFORD: At the end of the day, I don't think that they're going to allow us - allow the company to - like Chevrolet to fail.
BRADY: President Obama's mention that the federal government would back up warranties if the company goes bankrupt reinforced that confidence, plus GM was offering some good deals. And the Rutherfords said they like how the car drives. They have little sympathy for Rick Wagoner, though, and say the government has the right to oust the CEO, considering how much the U.S. has invested in GM.
Ms. JOAN RUTHERFORD: I trust Obama, personally. I think that he's obviously an intelligent businessman, and I feel comfortable that he's not going let the wrong things happen.
BRADY: Outside, Alan Squire is leaving without buying a car, and he's worried about the White House ousting Wagoner.
Mr. ALAN SQUIRE: I think it's the first move to socialism…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SQUIRE: …personally.
BRADY: Squire owns a small business that sells automotive paint.
Mr. SQUIRE: I wish the government would stay out of it and let people stand on their own two feet. There's a lot of small businesses, and they're not getting any bailouts. So why should the big guys be treated any different?
BRADY: Back in the showroom, sales manager Tim Myers says what GM needs is someone like Lee Iacocca, who's credited with turning around Chrysler in the 1980s.
Mr. TIM MYERS (Sales Manager, Medved Autoplex): And he said folks, we're going to be around. We're going to be viable. We make a good product. Come buy from us. And he sold it. He had the charisma to be able to draw people to him and to sell it.
BRADY: Myers says GM is making great cars right now, but still suffers from the poor reputation the company earned in the 1970s and '80s. If GM can't find a charismatic leader to change people's perceptions, Myers wonders if perhaps a charismatic President Obama could accomplish that.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
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