WASHINGTON — General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC essentially are burning through $17.4 billion in government loans in three months and want billions more to stay alive.
The ink is still drying on their new requests, but for President Barack Obama's month-old administration, there are no easy answers.
Give them more money? GM and Chrysler could return in months seeking more. Bankruptcy? Hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost. Government-led bankruptcy? In GM's case, that might cost up to $100 billion.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs at assembly plants, car dealers, parts suppliers and the small businesses that serve them could be at risk in a fatigued economy in which nearly 12 million people are unemployed.
Even if Obama meets GM's and Chrysler's requests for an additional $14 billion in loans and the companies execute their turnaround plans released Tuesday, it would come with a painful price: An estimated 50,000 workers worldwide would lose their jobs and 14 plants would be closed.
Any deal would require painful concessions from the United Auto Workers, dealers and bondholders, who are mulling plans to swap two-thirds of their debt for equity as required by the loan terms set by the Bush administration.
The UAW said it reached an agreement with GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. on changes to their 2007 contracts, but they were still hammering out deals to give the union equity instead of cash for much of the companies' payments into a trust that will take over retiree health care expenses next year.
Complicating matters, the requests for more funding follow months of wrangling in Congress over the bailout of the financial institutions, the first auto industry bailout and a $787 billion economic stimulus plan meant to jump-start the economy.
GM and Chrysler, which initially received $13.4 billion and $4 billion, respectively, increased their requests to a total of $39 billion, telling the government that they need more money because of a weakened U.S. auto market.
Without additional aid, the companies said they would run out of money in March.
Ford, which borrowed billions from private sources before credit markets tightened, said it can make it through 2009 without government help.
GM, whose entire request grew to $30 billion, expects to spend $14 billion more than it takes in this year, Ray Young, chief financial officer, said Wednesday.
GM's cash burn, though, is projected to drop to $3.8 billion next year, and the company predicts positive cash flow of $6.6 billion in 2012 and $6.4 billion in 2014.
But the company said with the loans and its restructuring plan, which calls for 47,000 job cuts and 14 fewer plants, it could turn a profit by 2010 and fully repay its loans by 2017 if sales rebound.
With the U.S. economy taking a nose dive and few expectations that U.S. auto market will recover anytime soon, analysts expect creating a leaner GM and Chrysler will require a long-term commitment.