Govt. Grinds Gears in Auto Industry Conundrum

As car companies teeter near collapse, Congress weighs their pleas for aid.

ByABC News
November 11, 2008, 3:53 PM

Nov. 11, 2008— -- With stocks for GM and Ford in a tailspin, the combined worth of the two companies is less than the value of Auto Zone, a parts retailer. But after Congress rode to Wall Street's rescue, can the government just say no to American automakers that are sinking?

"I believe in creative destruction. Out of the ashes of an industry something else will emerge," said Roben Farzad, senior writer at Business Week.

Teetering on the brink of collapse, the big three automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- made an urgent plea to Congress for more funds last week, requesting $50 billion on top of an approved $25 billion loan for energy-efficient technology.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will ask a lame-duck session of Congress to pass an emergency bill so that automakers can get a share of the $700 billion economic rescue package.

While the bailout could cost taxpayers up to $75 billion, David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research, said it's the best way to prevent sustained damage to the economy.

"The cost of keeping the industry going is a lot less than the cost of failure," Cole said.

The Center for Automotive Research estimates that the failure of a major U.S. automaker could cost the American economy $125 billion in lost annual income, and $50 billion in lost tax revenue, totaling $175 billion in the first year alone.

"If you lose one of the big guys, a GM or a Ford, that can cascade down to the supplier base and really bring the industry down," Cole said. "The cleanup of the mess of this industry would be much, much greater than the cost of keeping the industry functioning."

The ripple effect of a major collapse affects dealers to part makers to ad agencies, and would result in severe job losses across the board; the industry alone employs more than 2 million Americans.

But skeptics ask: What's to ensure that car companies, who are burning through more than $2 billion in cash per month, won't blow the bailout money?

Some argue that bailing out the car companies puts the government on a slippery slope, having to rescue all industries; if you bail out car companies, opponents say, what's stopping the government from rescuing U.S. steel companies or airlines, which have also suffered formidable losses?