Almost a third of that total was lost in the final quarter alone, when a collapse in car sales left revenues down by 39 per cent and GM struggling to stay afloat. The firm, which has already received US government aid to the tune of $13.4bn, has asked for a further $16.4bn to see it through the recession. GM has now lost in excess of $70bn since 2005, when current CEO Rick Wagoner began his attempt to turn it around.
The results are so dire that in its official statement, GM admits that its auditors will now have to assess whether the firm remains viable as a going concern, and states once again that it desperately needs state funding to survive.
The announcement will add fuel to the debate over whether governments should even attempt to rescue such stricken giants as GM, and whether the huge sums of money being asked for could not be better spent elsewhere. GM, say its critics, has been the author of its own downfall, failing to tackle the US labour unions, racking up enormous pension defecits and becoming too reliant on making gas guzzling SUVs which people no longer want to buy. The normally pretty astute Wagoner didn’t help his case much either, when it emerged that he travelled to a congressional grilling on bail-out funding by corporate jet.
But on the other hand, pretty much the same could be said of many of the Wall Street giants who received very prompt government handouts, on a scale that makes GM’s needs look pretty small beer. The debate will probably turn on the question not so much of whether GM has a viable long term future as things stand (it’s hard to see that it does), but whether the consequences of allowing it to fail would be too disastrous to contemplate.
The collapse of such a huge business would certainly have severe and hard-to-predict global ramifications - the entire automotive supply chain would be hit by it. Something which the new US administration will be very eager to avoid, after the mistake of letting Lehman go under made by the last lot precipitated such woe in the financial sector.
But would the consequences of having to spend an unknown but certainly vast sum on propping up a fundamentally flawed business be any less damaging? Over to you, President Obama…
In today's bulletin:
Lloyds plummets as HBOS slumps to £11bn loss
Luke Johnson on why Channel 4 must stay public
Never too old for air traffic control
General Motors on the ropes after £31bn loss
Lessons in personal matters, from YouTube