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GM to roll out second restructuring plan

Latest update : 2008-07-15

General Motors Corp. is expected to announce a 20% cut in salaries and a shake-up of its product portfolio as it looks to regain investor confidence amid slumping sales.


DETROIT - General Motors Corp Chief Executive Rick Wagoner is slated to announce the automaker's second major restructuring package in six weeks on Tuesday as the company looks to cut costs and win back investor confidence in the face of slumping sales.

The cost-cutting will include widespread job cuts for white-collar workers, including engineers assigned to now-frozen efforts to develop GM's next generation of full-size SUVs and pickup trucks, people familiar with the plans said.

Analysts also expect GM to unveil a shake-up of its product portfolio to reflect steps intended to make the line-up more competitive on fuel efficiency.

In addition, GM is expected to detail steps to conserve cash -- including possibly eliminating dividend payments - as it prepares to raise capital to carry it into 2010 when it will begin to capture large savings from a contract reached last year with the United Auto Workers union, analysts have said.

Shares of GM bounced higher by as much as 5 percent in after-hours trade after the news. The stock has lost about 63 percent since the start of the year.

GM executives, including Wagoner, scheduled a series of briefings for employees, analysts and reporters starting at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Tuesday.

The company said those briefings would include executives responsible for GM's financial performance and its product line-up and would detail what GM is doing to "align" its operations to current market conditions.

The largest U.S. automaker has been under intensifying pressure to cut costs because of a rapid shift away from trucks and SUVs and a decline in overall sales.

"I think it will be a pretty involved discussion," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "I wouldn't expect them to leave much untouched."

David Healy, an analyst with Burnham Securities, said GM could cut "several thousand" white-collar jobs, make some temporary plant closings permanent and consolidate a vehicle line-up some analysts have criticized for overlapping too much between brands.

"Given the situation of the car market, the radical change in mix of what people want to buy and the fact that GM will probably lose from operations -- not including write-offs -- six to seven billion dollars this year, I think they are going to shrink the company more," Healy said.

In early June, Wagoner announced GM would close four North American truck plants employing about 100,000 workers and would try to sell its Hummer brand in response to higher gas prices.

But market sentiment has darkened on GM and the auto sector in the weeks since that announcement, with most analysts no longer expecting a real recovery in U.S. auto sales in 2009.

GM's U.S. sales were down 16 percent in the first half of the year, led by a 20 percent drop in sales of trucks.

CASH IS KING

The automaker's shares touched a 54-year low last week as investors reacted to growing concern that the automaker would be forced to raise up to $15 billion in additional capital to ride out the downturn.

GM ended the first quarter with $31 billion in cash and undrawn credit. Wagoner has said that is enough for GM to make it through any downturn this year, although he has also encouraged GM managers to focus on preserving cash.

Bankers and analysts have said GM needs to show more progress in cost cutting as a condition to any move to tap capital markets, including the syndicated bank loan market.

Cole said GM financial market concerns had forced GM to address questions about its cash position and steps it could take to shore up liquidity.

"This was not an option of sitting this cycle out," he said. "They had to talk...but they have a lot of options."

Last month, GM said it had suspended work on next-generation versions of its full-size trucks, which had been scheduled to launch in 2012.

Other automakers including Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp have taken similar steps in recent weeks in reaction to the sharp decline in U.S. truck sales.

Because GM has concentrated its full-size truck product development in North America, the resulting job cuts from the shift away from those vehicles will hit the automaker's home market, a person familiar with the plans said.

Healy, who does not own GM shares, said the quick shift in GM's product plans away from trucks like the Silverado and the Yukon SUV presented an obvious cost-cutting target.

"I think they have discontinued plans for replacement of big SUVs and some engineers have been reassigned to small-car projects," he said. "But with a smaller company and a thinner product line, that leaves them overstaffed."

Date created : 2008-07-15

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