For months, General Motors had been telling everyone who would listen that bankruptcy was not an option. It had a $30 billion cash pile and plans to restructure the company as the economy rebounded and 2007 U.S. auto sales topped 16 million units.
Then came October. Sales plummeted an astounding 45% over the same period last year, a result of a slowing economy and a dearth of financing for would-be car buyers. Total U.S. car and light-truck sales this year could come in at 13.5 million, 2.6 million fewer than last year. "That's in nobody's business plan," says Kimberly Rodriguez, an automotive specialist with Grant Thornton.
"The best planning in the world cannot survive that fluctuation." It's now clear that GM can't survive as an ongoing entity without massive federal assistance. The company is burning through more than $2 billion each month. It has $16 billion left. As if they were aboard a dirigible losing altitude, GM's bosses have been frantically throwing all manner of stuff overboard — retiree health-care benefits, people, assets, new car design — to conserve $5 billion. That will get it through the year.
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