Automakers to submit plans to Congress
The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON ” Detroit’s automakers, making a second bid for $25 billion in funding, are presenting Congress with plans Tuesday to restructure their ailing companies and provide assurances that the funding will help them survive and thrive.
General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler LLC would refinance their companies’ debt, cut executive pay, seek concessions from workers and find other ways of reviving their staggering companies.
UAW leaders, meanwhile, summoned local union leaders from across the country to an emergency meeting Wednesday in Detroit to discuss concessions the union could make to help auto companies get government loans.
U.S. automakers are struggling to stay afloat heading into 2009 under the weight of an economic meltdown, the worst auto sales in decades and a tight credit market. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler went through nearly $18 billion in cash reserves during the last quarter, and GM and Chrysler have said they could collapse in weeks.
Top executives from the Big Three failed last month to convince a skeptical Congress that they were worthy of $25 billion in loans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ordered them to outline major changes, including the elimination of lavish executive pay packages and assurances that taxpayers would be reimbursed for the loans.
All three companies are filing separate plans. Congressional hearings are planned for Thursday and Friday.
“I believe the industry will make a compelling case for bridge loans that will allow the companies to return to firm financial footing,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
GM will outline efforts to negotiate swapping some of the company’s debt for equity stakes in the automaker, either shares or warrants for them, said two people briefed on the company’s plan.
With eight separate brands, GM will also discuss efforts to shed brands but it would prefer to sell them instead of shutting down Pontiac, Saturn or Saab, said one of the people briefed on the plan. Killing off brands, like GM did with Oldsmobile in 2004, would require cash the company doesn’t have, the person said. The people briefed on GM’s preparations didn’t want to be identified because the plan hadn’t been completed.
Some members of Congress have urged the Big Three executives to take major pay cuts as part of the deal. Chrysler Chief Executive Robert Nardelli said he would work for $1 a year, and a similar commitment is expected from GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Ford plans to include a pay cut for Ford CEO Alan Mulally, although the size of the cut was not immediately available.
Chrysler is expected to outline changes that would include a swap of debt in the company for equity stakes and reductions in some vehicle models, according to a person who was briefed on the plan. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
Ford, meanwhile, is not expected to immediately seek the loans. Mulally told Congress last month that the company would only seek funding if the U.S. market continued to deteriorate. He mortgaged factories to arrange a $23.4 billion credit line shortly after taking over the company in 2006 and he has said Ford can last at least until 2010.
Cash stockpiles at GM and Chrysler are dangerously close to the minimum amount required to run the companies, meaning they could have trouble paying all their bills by the end of the year.
GM, according to its quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, owes creditors $45 billion and it must pay more than $7.5 billion early in 2010 to a United Auto Workers trust fund that will take over retiree health care payments.
Ford owes more than $26 billion, with $6.3 billion due to its UAW trust fund at the end of 2009. Chrysler, a private company, does not have to open its books, but its CEO, Nardelli, has said it would be difficult for the company to make it without federal aid. All three likely are negotiating with the UAW for delays in payments to the trusts.
The companies are expected to seek other concessions from the United Auto Workers, including the elimination of the much-maligned jobs bank in which laid-off workers keep receiving most of their pay.
Alan Reuther, the UAW’s legislative director, declined to say on Monday what kinds of concessions the union might take but said “we realize that all stakeholders need to come to the table to do what’s necessary to ensure the viability of the companies. We’re prepared to do our part.”
The UAW leaders subsequently disclosed plans for a meeting in an e-mail, obtained by The Associated Press, to local union presidents and bargaining chairmen.
Among the subjects to be discussed at the Wednesday meeting will be the possibility of restructuring the union-administered health care fund so that the automakers can delay payments to the multibillion-dollar fund, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The union leaders will also discuss potentially eliminating the jobs bank, in which laid-off workers keep receiving most of their pay. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the talks haven’t been finalized.
The automakers’ plans to Congress may also discuss more symbolic issues such as the use of corporate jets. During the congressional hearings, the executives were sharply criticized for traveling to Washington, D.C., separately by private jets.
Ford said that Mulally will travel by car when he returns later in the week. Chrysler and GM said their CEOs will not fly by corporate jet, but neither company has said if the executives will fly on commercial airlines or drive.
All three companies are expected to resist calls for bankruptcy. The executives said last month bankruptcy cannot be an option because no one would buy a car from an automaker that may not survive the life of the vehicle.
Auto executives plan to discuss the plans at a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday and the House Financial Services Committee on Friday.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in an interview that the plans need to address some of the key structural issues facing the industry, such as costs, their debt structure, their dealer network cost and their product lines.
Gutierrez said auto industry officials have told him they plan to present “strong plans” but he had not been briefed on the details.
“There needs to be a path to viability,” Gutierrez said.
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