GM May Ditch Brands, Slash White-Collar Jobs

General Motors may get rid of some brands, speed the introduction of small cars from other markets and make further white-collar job cuts as it tries to deal with a shrinking U.S. auto market.

2008 Saturn Aura
2008 Saturn Aura

A person familiar with the company's discussions said Monday all the options are being considered as GM tries to cope with the dramatic shift in consumer buying habits from trucks to cars and crossover vehicles.

The person asked not to be identified because no decisions have been made.

GM announced last month it would close four truck and sport utility vehicle plants and boost production of several existing car models.

Its sales are down 16.3 percent this year, and last week GM's stock price closed below $10 for the first time since September 1954.

The job cuts could be considered by GM's board of directors when it meets in early August, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Company spokeswoman Renee Rashid-Merem would not comment on potential job or brand cuts, but said the company has made it clear that action would be taken if the U.S. auto market worsened.

"If conditions persist or deteriorate, then we'll continue to take aggressive actions," she said Monday.

GM shares were down more than 1 percent Monday. GM's stock price dropped to a 54-year low of $9.96 on Wednesday after Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy wrote in a note to investors that a GM bankruptcy "is not impossible if the market continues to deteriorate and significant incremental capital is not raised."

The next day, JPMorgan analyst Himanshu Patel called the bankruptcy fears overblown but predicted GM will burn through $18 billion in 2008 and 2009 as it struggles with depressed U.S. sales.

GM has $24 billion in cash and $4.6 billion in credit on hand, he said, so it doesn't need to raise more money immediately. But he predicted the automaker will try to raise another $10 billion in the third quarter of this year by mortgaging trademarks, international operations and other assets.

Critics have said GM still has too much fat in its middle management, despite cutting white-collar employment to 32,000 last year from 44,000 in 2000. They also say the engineering, manufacturing and marketing costs are too high for it to keep all eight of its brands.

Over the years, analysts have suggested cutting or selling the Buick, Saab or Saturn brands, perhaps jettisoning them like GM did with Oldsmobile in 2004. Chevrolet and Cadillac remain the company's strongest sellers.

Buick sales are down 21 percent so far this year, while Saab is down 29 percent and Saturn sales are off nearly 19 percent. Saab, the Swedish automaker, sold only 12,068 vehicles during the first half of 2008. Saturn sales have declined nearly 19 percent for the year even though its model lineup has been completely revamped.

GM already has decided to study the sale of its Hummer brand. The big trucks aren't the right product for consumers facing $4 per gallon gasoline.