GM Seeks New Start in Bankruptcy

General Motors filed for bankruptcy on Monday morning, submitting its reorganization papers to a federal clerk in Lower Manhattan.

 

G.M. said it had $82.3 billion in assets and $172.8 billion in debts. Its largest creditors were the Wilmington Trust Company, representing a group of bondholders holding $22.8 billion in debts, and affiliates of the United Auto Workers union, representing nearly $20.6 billion in employee obligations.

 

The filing itself seemed anticlimactic. It was a simple procedure done thousands of times each day across the country, by individuals and business alike. But not usually, as in this case, by companies like G.M. that have woven themselves into the fabric of America culture.

 

The company was forced into the filing by President Obama, who is betting that by temporarily nationalizing the onetime icon of American capitalism, he can save at least a diminished automaker that is competitive.

 

With the filing, G.M. follows its crosstown rival Chrysler in bankruptcy. And G.M. hopes that it can move as swiftly in its reorganization. Chrysler, which sought court protection on April 30, could emerge in the next few days; a bankruptcy judge in New York gave approval on Sunday night for most of its assets to be acquired by Fiat, a decision that President Obama hailed on Monday morning.

 

“Chrysler has a new lease on life,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “We said this process would be completed quickly and efficiently, and that’s exactly what has been accomplished today.”

 

The bankruptcy of General Motors culminates a remarkable four months of confrontation between Washington and Detroit that is expected to result in a drastic downsizing of the company. It also places the government in uncharted territory as a business owner, as it takes a majority ownership stake in the company during its restructuring.

 

The company’s Saturn unit, which G.M. began in 1990 to compete with foreign-made cars, also filed for bankruptcy on Monday. G.M. has said it would phase out the Saturn brand by 2012.

G.M.’s Saab unit is already under bankruptcy protection in Sweden. The German government last week picked Magna International, a Canadian car-parts maker, to buy G.M.’s Opel unit, which is based in Germany.

 

Reflecting the government’s extraordinary intervention in industry, aides say, Mr. Obama plans to tell the nation later Monday morning that he believes G.M. can be brought back from the brink of insolvency, even if the company looks almost nothing like the titan of old.

 

Administration officials briefed reporters on Sunday night, as President Obama began to inform members of Congress. But the White House insisted that the aides who talked to reporters could not be named.

 

In his remarks on Monday, Mr. Obama will spell out a strategy in which a shrunken G.M. can make money even if new car sales remain at a sluggish 10 million a year in the United States and even if G.M., once the giant of the industry, drops below its current 20 percent market share in this country.

 

But to get there, American taxpayers will invest an additional $30 billion in the company, atop $20 billion already spent just to keep it solvent as the company bled cash as quickly as Washington could inject it. Whether that investment will ever be recovered is still an open question.

 

The company will also have to shed 21,000 union workers and close 12 to 20 factories, steps that most analysts thought could never be pushed through by a Democratic president allied with organized labor.

 

Forty percent of the company’s 6,000 dealers will close, the workers’ union will be forced to finance half of its $20 billion health care fund with stock of uncertain value in the restructured G.M., and bondholders, including many retirees, will be forced to take stock worth 10 cents for every dollar they lent the company.

 

G.M. will also lose its spot on the Dow Jones industrial average, a key stock-market gauge of 30 blue-chip stocks. The car maker had been a member of the closely watched stock index since 1925.Judge Robert E. Gerber of the United States Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan will oversee the bankruptcy. He was appointed in 2000, and oversaw the bankruptcy of the cable company Adelphia.

 

Before that, he was a partner in the Manhattan firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which he joined in 1971 after graduating for Columbia Law School. He specialized in securities and commercial litigation and, thereafter, bankruptcy litigation and counseling.

The company’s last steps toward bankruptcy took place over the weekend as a majority of G.M. bondholders agreed not to challenge the filing in court and to exchange their debt for stock.

 

To assist in the restructuring, the automaker is expected to hire the consulting firm Alix Partners, which has worked on several major bankruptcies, including those for Enron and Kmart. One of the firm’s partners, Al Koch, is expected to manage the liquidation of corporate assets that G.M. will shed during its Chapter 11 restructuring, people with knowledge of the bankruptcy strategy said.

 

Mr. Obama is taking several risks under the plan. None may be bigger than the decision that the United States government will take a 60 percent share of the stock in a new G.M., leaving taxpayers vulnerable if the overhaul is not successful. (Canada, for its part, is taking a 12 percent stake.)

 

“We don’t think that after this next $30 billion, they will need more money,” one senior administration official said. “But the fact is there are things you don’t know — like when the car market will come back, and how much Toyota and Honda and Volkswagen will benefit from the chaos.”

 

The administration said it had concluded that if Washington just kept lending money to G.M., loading it with debt, the company would be unable to both invest in its business and pay back the loans.

 

From the NY Times, this article was reported by David E. Sanger, Jeff Zeleny and Bill Vlasic, and written by Mr. Sanger.