March 30, 2009 -- General Motors' new chief executive, company veteran Fritz Henderson, told ABC News today about the changes that will come fast and hard after President Obama's scolding.
The new man in GM's hot seat concedes that is the price they must pay for taking taxpayer dollars.
"We've faced extremely difficult situations here certainly in the last 12 months, and it frankly uncovered the fragility of the company," Henderson said. "And so, yes, we made mistakes."
Henderson added that "there is more pain and sacrifice" ahead for GM employees, but he remains optimistic about the future of the company.
Obama announced today that his administration will work with GM closely to develop a better business plan, in addition to providing federal funding over the next 60 days.
The government will also back new car warranties issued by both GM and Chrysler, another company on the hot seat. The Obama administration indicated today that Chrysler must work out a merger with Italian carmaker Fiat or face collapse.
"I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: The United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars," Obama said.
"There were a lot of very strong statements that we took as encouragement -- if we get our job done, GM will be a player in the future," Henderson said.
In order to make sure GM remains viable, Henderson said he's "absolutely" OK with the government's tough approach.
"We need to do what it takes to get it done and they're prepared to be there to help support us to do that," he said. "We have worked hard in the last 90 days to not only develop and submit our plan on Feb. 17, but actually implement our plan in some very important ways, but the conclusion is the environment has done nothing other than be equally difficult, if not more difficult than even late last year, and so we need to do more and we need to do more now."
Bracing for Change
As GM struggles to stay afloat, autoworkers may be asked to give even more. All parties, including the United Auto Workers, may need to come back to the table and try to find a solution in the next 60 days.
"I think the answer is that the company does need to do more and everyone needs to pull together to try to get that done," Henderson said. "I try to be an optimist on things ... look at it as the glass is half full and I think all of us can come together for the common good to make sure we can all be successful."
The clock is running. GM must shed thousands of more jobs. For union workers, that means a stark choice between sacrificing even more, or giving up their livelihoods.
Even more concessions may not be enough if car sales continue their dismal spiral.
Today, the U.S. National Automobile Dealers Association trade group pleaded that "bankruptcy should not be an option." But at GM headquarters, the once forbidden b-word is plainly on the table.
Bankruptcy, Henderson said, is more likely now.
"The probability of that happening is higher as the president said today, it may very well be in his judgment, or the Automotive Task Force judgment, the best way to accomplish what needs to be done," he said. "It's not our preference and frankly we're committed to working with the task force and with all the constituencies and GM to achieve this outside a bankruptcy, if possible."