Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ultimatum to US automakers

WASHINGTON - PRESIDENT Barack Obama said on Monday that neither General Motors nor Chrysler has proposed sweeping enough changes to justify further large federal bailouts, and demanded 'painful concessions' from creditors, unions and others as their price for survival.

Mr Obama also raised the possibility of a controlled bankruptcy to help either or both 'restructure quickly and emerge stronger' - uttering the term that industry and union officials have warned repeatedly could lead to the collapse of an entire domestic industry.

Declaring he would no longer 'excuse poor decisions' as the companies tried to survive on 'an unending flow of tax dollars,' Mr Obama said, 'These companies and this industry must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state.'

With his words, Mr Obama underscored the extent to which the government is now dictating terms to two of the country's iconic corporations - forcing the departure of Rick Wagoner as CEO of General Motors, and bluntly warning it may pull the plug on either or both companies.

The Bush administration late last year approved US$17 billion (S$26 billion) in federal funds to help GM and Chrysler survive.

It also demanded both companies submit restructuring plans that the Obama administration would review.

Even as he pronounced their effort unsatisfactory, the president said the administration will offer General Motors 'adequate working capital' over the next 60 days to produce a reorganisation plan acceptable to the administration.

He said Chrysler's situation is more perilous, and the government will give the company 30 days to overcome hurdles to a merger with Fiat, the Italian automaker.

If they are successful 'we will consider lending up to US$6 billion to help their plan succeed,' he said. -- AP

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