Now that Chevrolet has revised their EPA mileage estimate for the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, from 42 mpg to 46 mpg, we need to revise our own estimates.
At the height of “bailout fever,” after TARP had been instituted but before the automakers had been completely bailed out, one argument that we heard a lot of from Detroit’s defenders was “how can you begrudge the manufacturing base a few billion when speculators at the banks are receiving far more support?” At the time, the argument seemed to me like a convenient way to shift attention away from Detroit’s failures and undercut the argument that consumers, not a credit crunch, were responsible for killing off GM and Chrysler… but at least then it still had some validity. Fast forward to today, and history has stripped it of all relevance, as it turns out the banks will likely be picking up the automakers’ bailout tab.
I am sorry I am being brash but when you owe money to people and you pay them back you shouldn’t be celebrating. You just cut them a check and send them home and say thank you on your way out
We’ve given Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne some grief for his somewhat unseemly self-congratulation at his repayment of “every penny loaned less than two years ago.” This quote, given to CNBC, is more what we were looking for. After all, one imagines that Chrysler doesn’t hold such celebratory spectacles for folks who finish paying off loans on their Calibers and Caravans. Acknowledging the mundanity of Chrysler’s Wall Street re-fi is a much better way for the firm to re-boot its post-bailout relations with the American people. For this quote, as much as for the promising but still-wildly-uncertain turnaround of Americas most troubled automaker, I am happy to extend Mr Marchionne and his team a modest, unceremonious word of thanks.
Speaking at a Brookings Institution summit on cities affected by the auto downturn, National Economic Council director Larry Summers said that taxpayers will likely see “most, if not all” of its $42b outstanding “investment” in GM returned when the automaker goes public. According to the Detroit Free Press:
Summers’ comments were backed up by an analyst estimate today that suggested the new GM’s equity could be worth between $75 billion and $78.5 billion – giving the government more than $42 billion for its 60.6% stake.
Obama Administration officials had previously said that taxpayers stand to lose as much as $34b on its bailout of the auto sector, including GM, Chrysler and their finance unit formerly known as GMAC (now called Ally Financial).
What, you want more context from a headline? It’s not like we’ve lied to you or anything. Technically, every word of it is true. OK, OK, here’s the fine print: CGI Holding, owners of “Old Chrysler” and Chrysler Financial paid $1.9b of a $4b pre-bankruptcy TARP loan, according to Automotive News [sub]. Though far less than face value, that payback “is significantly more” than what Treasury was expecting in return. In other words, this is great news if you thought the bailout would be a complete loss. Otherwise, it means that the various remains of Chrysler have repaid $3.9b of the $14.3 invested by taxpayers into the company pre-bankruptcy… and unless Chrysler’s IPO brings in about $100b, Treasury will still take a bath on the rescue.
GM’s now-infamous advertisement touting the payback of government loans “may have elasticized the reality of things,” in the words of Steve Rattner, but stretching the truth apparently pays off. Automotive News [sub] reports that a London public perception-tracking firm surveyed some 5,000 consumers, and found that The General’s image has improved since the ad started running. Of course, on YouGov’s brand image scale of 100 to negative 100, GM is up only five points to “17.” Clearly there’s still work to do.
Auto bailout mastermind Steve Rattner knows a thing or two about the truth. Just ask his former financial firm, Quadrangle. So, when asked by the Detroit News what he thought of allegations that GM mislead consumers with its “Payback” ad, he pulled a classic out of the thesaurus. The General, said Rattner,
may have slightly elasticized the reality of things.
And this is a real Corvette that went through a special “elasticizing machine” in the factory at Bowling Green, right?
In response to Senator Chuck Grassley’s concern that GM’s claim to have paid back taxpayer loans was misleading, the US Treasury is now saying that it has no problem with The General’s statements. According to the Freep, a Treasury letter to Grassley explains that:
GM’s decision to pay off the loan signaled the automaker did not face “extraordinary expenses,” and that Treasury approved the loan payoff.
“The fact that GM made the determination and repaid the remaining $4.7 billion to the U.S. government now is good news for the company, our investment and the American people,” said Herbert Allison, assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability.
Strictly speaking, GM’s claim to have paid back all US Government loans is correct. The only issue is that GM’s ad touting the payback makes no reference to the fact that it still owes the Treasury upwards of $40b. If that misleads folks, well, apparently the Treasury Department isn’t going to do anything about it.
GM boss Ed Whitacre just finished a brief and unenlightening press conference, in which he revealed that he will remain as permanent Chairman and CEO for the foreseeable future. Whitacre refused to set expectations for how long he would remain at the top of the government-owned automaker, simply saying he would stay “for an adequate amount of time to do what we need to do.” He does not anticipate the appointment of a separate President, COO or Chairman of the Board, leaving him in full control of the company. Whitacre also announced that an already-planned payback of $6.7b in government loans would take place in a lump-sum payment this June. He also clarified that GM was in “advanced talks” with the Dutch firm Spyker over the fate of the Saab brand (or what’s left of it) but that GM has not reversed its decision to wind the brand down, and that he had no announcement of any new deal with Spyker. Saab enthusiasts had hoped Whitacre would announce a Spyker deal at today’s press conference. Meanwhile, Saab hopeful Genii Capital has announced the withdrawal of its Saab bid. Otherwise, Whitacre said he was “encouraged” by GM’s situation and that the his emphasis would be on “fine tuning” going forward.
My commitment is to the American taxpayer. My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed… We want our money back and we’re going to get it.
Without even getting into the politics of President Obama’s proposed “financial crisis responsibility fee,” it’s easy to see that the initiative holds a wealth of implications for America’s TARP-recipient automakers. In Obama’s new rhetoric, taking TARP money put businesses in a new category of special obligation to the taxpayers. Though the fee is targeted at financial institutions, the principle applies just as much to Detroit.