GM knows its has a problem. It knows that many Americans may not consider buying a GM vehicle while the company is still in effect, a branch of the United States Government.
That would explain why they feel the need to go on TV with ads hype the meme that its has paid back its debt to the government.
Unfortunately, this is all bunk.
GM CEO Ed Whitacre announced in a Wall Street Journal column Wednesday that his company has paid back its government bailout loan "in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule." He is even running TV ads on all major networks to that effect--a needless expense given that a credulous media is only too happy to parrot his claims for free. Detroit Free Press' Mike Thompson, for example, advises bailout proponents to start "warming up their vocal chords" to jeer their opponents with chants of "I told you so."As Forbes puts it further down in this article, this is "using government money to pay back government money to get more government money".
But before belting out their victory aria, GM-boosters ought to hear the whole story--not just the fairytale version about Government Motors' grand comeback that Mr. Whitacre is feeding them.
Uncle Sam gave GM $49.5 billion last summer in aid to finance its bankruptcy. (If it hadn't, the company, which couldn't raise this kind of money from private lenders, would have been forced into liquidation, its assets sold for scrap.) So when Mr. Whitacre publishes a column with the headline, "The GM Bailout: Paid Back in Full," most ordinary mortals unfamiliar with bailout minutia would assume that he is alluding to the entire $49.5 billion. That, however, is far from the case.
Because a loan of such a huge amount would have been politically controversial, the Obama administration handed GM only $6.7 billion as a pure loan. (It asked for only a 7% interest rate--a very sweet deal considering that GM bonds at that time were trading below junk level.) The vast bulk of the bailout money was transferred to GM through the purchase of 60.8% equity stake in the company--arguably an even worse deal for taxpayers than the loan, given that the equity position requires them to bear the risk of the investment without any guaranteed return. (The Canadian government likewise gave GM $1.4 billion as a pure loan, and another $8.1 billion for an 11.7% equity stake. The U.S. and Canadian government together own 72.5% of the company.)
But when Mr. Whitacre says GM has paid back the bailout money in full, he means not the entire $49.5 billion--the loan and the equity. In fact, he avoids all mention of that figure in his column. He means only the $6.7 billion loan amount.
America, you are being hoodwinked. GM thinks you are a crash test dummy. Don't believe the hype....