Critical list

GENERAL MOTORS

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The wheels have fallen off the car giant, and may soon be bouncing around Motor City. The US Treasury gave GM a $13.4bn fuel injection in December, only to refuse the car-maker's request to raise it to $30bn. Instead, President Obama sent a taskforce to poke around under GM's bonnet, giving the company till 1 June to formulate a radical restructuring plan first. GM's CEO Rick Wagoner has also been ejected from the driving seat, courtesy of the presidential boot.

Danger signs: In the '70s, GM hotshot John DeLorean criticised the 'cancerous amorality' of the company's culture, which put profit above concern for its workers. Knocks from a fraudster didn't matter, as long as punters were still driving off in GM's profitable gas-guzzling SUVs. But tastes changed to smaller models, GM stalled, and in 2007 ceded its 77-year title of 'world's largest car-maker' to Toyota. The company is now burdened by huge debt, with vanishing sales and enormously high costs - not least its crippling benefits plan. In 2008, the company warned it was running out of operating cash, and posted a $30.9bn loss for the year. Wagoner tried to get it all under control, planning to shed 47,000 jobs, close plants and drop half of GM's brands. But it was too little, too late. He sealed his fate by arriving at a congressional hearing in a private jet. The President was not impressed.

Prognosis: Some say the US government won't allow GM to go bankrupt. The head of the Senate banking committee said it would be like 'playing Russian roulette with the entire economy'. GM employs 250,000 directly, and many thousands more indirectly. But new chief Fritz Henderson isn't taking any chances: he has to persuade the federal government that his restructuring plan is credible and deserving of a bigger bail-out. That depends on bringing GM's creditors and the unions onside. If he fails, the unthinkable may yet happen. It seems that what's good for GM and what's good for America are not necessarily the same thing any more.

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