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General Motors Worse Off Than Expected on Eve of Bailout Request


With congressional hearings set Thursday and Friday of this week in advance of a vote on lending money to the beleaguered U.S. auto industry, General Motors says it needs money almost immediately. VOA's Barry Wood has more on the controversy over government aid to America's ailing auto industry.

With U.S. car sales at their lowest level in a quarter of a century, General Motors says it needs $4 billion before the end of this month. The largest of the so-called "Big Three" automakers, that also includes Ford and Chrysler, GM says its sales this year are down 22 percent, compared with an industry decline of 16 percent.

"GM, as many analysts point out, has very severe cash needs. They need the infusion as soon as possible," said Dennis Virag, who heads the Automobile Consulting Group.

Mike DiGiovanni, Director of Global Market Analysis at General Motors, says he is hopeful the industry will get its loans from Congress. He detects a spirit of cooperation between government, industry management and the auto workers union.

"I think it is doable with our partners. One of the positive things that has come out of this is a really good dialogue with the federal government and what our issues are, and some of the challenges we face," he said.

DiGiovanni and Virag spoke on Bloomberg Television.

Ron Gettlefinger, the head of the United Auto Workers, says his union is prepared to make concessions to cut industry costs.

"There's no question that we face some difficult challenges. Being honest, we've been saying for a long time that we're in a race to the bottom, a race to the bottom that workers in no country can win. Because there is always somebody else or somewhere else to go that pays less," he said.

The viability plans submitted by the carmakers are generally being well received and the companies are expected to receive government loans.

But Sheila Bair, who heads the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the agency charged with safeguarding U.S. bank deposits, wonders where to draw the line because the government cannot help all needy industries.

"Everybody is coming to Washington and wanting help. And picking winners and losers is a very difficult part of their [Congress and the Treasury Department's] job," she said.

But union leader Gettlefinger says the auto industry is different and more vital than most.

"I'm not sure where you draw the line. But let's just look at this. Let's look at the backbone of our economy, as Barack Obama describes it. Let's look at the millions of jobs that will be lost in this country if we lose this industry," he said.

Gettlefinger and the Big Three emphasize that American car companies, unlike banks and insurance companies, are seeking loans, not grants, and that their plight stems from the sudden, unpredicted decline in economic activity.

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