GM's bankruptcy filing

Here are the basics: $82.29 billion in assets and $172.81 billion in debt. Top creditors include Wilmington Trust, which represents bondholders and is owed $22.8 billion; and the unions, which are owed $20.6 billion. The U.S. government will bankroll the automaker with another $30 billion in aid (on top of the $20 billion already borrowed. All told, the feds would own 60 percent of the restructured company, at least for a while. From Bloomberg:

"It's been a long time coming, but the reality of a GM bankruptcy is still a bitter pill to swallow -- it's a bit like the Titanic sinking," said Stephen Pope, chief global strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald in London. "This is a step they should have taken more than a year ago, which could have put them in much better shape before the economy went down."

Detroit-based GM is the largest manufacturer to file for bankruptcy, surpassing Chrysler LLC. The carmaker plans to launch a new company in 60 to 90 days, armed with vehicles from its Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC units for the U.S. market. A federal bankruptcy judge would supervise the sale or liquidation of unprofitable brands, such as Saturn and Hummer, and at least 11 unwanted factories.

From the NYT:

The moment will reverberate beyond G.M.'s epicenter in Detroit, to factory towns in other parts of Michigan and in states like Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana. It will even be felt on Fifth Avenue in New York, where it built its financial headquarters, and Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida, where G.M. sponsors the Test Track Pavilion, a showcase of its latest cars.

From Dan Neil in the LAT:

GM had, rather accidentally, invented American consumerism. Longtime Chairman Alfred Sloan's program of "planned obsolescence" -- making annual, often minor changes in the products in such a way as to make last year's model hopelessly unfashionable -- put Americans on the acquisitive treadmill they are panting on yet today.

Another of Sloan's big ideas was the "Ladder of Success," whereby the company's brands -- Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac -- corresponded to ascending social status. The Ladder of Success was, in fact, an automotive caste system, a program of class stratification. Armed with the power of modern scientific marketing and advertising, GM was able to weld an existential link between who we are and what we drive.

A society obsessed with mobility had found its muse. Chollos and homeboys cherished that '62 Impala. Redneck country boys had to have that 400-cubic-inch Trans Am. Texas moms loved their blot-out-the-sun Suburban. Playas rode up on Escalades and Hummers with 22-inch wheels. The diversity of GM's product offerings became a lens through which to diffract American life, which is another way to say GM traded in automotive identity politics.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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