cars to have 50% of your people saying, 'I'm not going to do it; I'd rather
buy a Ford because of it.' "
Ewanick was recently fired as GM's global chief marketing officer for unrelated issues.
Auto rescue tale spin
Whether GM can successfully avoid the spotlight this fall is questionable. With a sluggish economy and an unemployment rate of 8.3% in July, the auto bailout is a bright spot for Obama, and highlighting it a key campaign strategy.
"I think it will be prominent in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois," said former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Democrat. He said it will serve the president nationwide as "a metaphor for how you treat people whose jobs are threatened."
The president trumpeted the auto bailout no fewer than 20 times in the first 20 days of August, according to a review of transcripts. On the day of Michigan's Republican presidential primary in February, Obama was talking up the bailout before the UAW.
UAW President Bob King said the bailout will be just part of the union's message supporting the president, saying salaried and hourly workers recognize the second chance the government gave the company.
The Romney campaign has seized on big labor's role in the bailout. Critics point out that GM's European unit has been posting annual losses topping $1 billion, which means the company's North American operations are effectively funding the losses in Europe, where German unions appear to have a stranglehold on company plants.
And the company, while pulled back from the edge, still faces major challenges: It will lose money in Europe for the 13th straight year, it must fend off resurgent Japanese competitors in the U.S. and it faces a sluggish stock price that analysts say is still being weighed down by the government ownership.
GM, for its part, still must comply with a program of executive pay restrictions, which it says has hampered retention and recruitment of the best and brightest.
Obama supporters argue that even if the Treasury has to eventually sell GM stock at a loss, a $15-billion hit is a small price for saving GM's 77,000 U.S. employees and preventing a collapse of auto suppliers that could have crippled the industry.
"Philosophically, I was absolutely opposed to the idea of the government stepping in," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research. "But had we seen a collapse of the industry, which was right at the edge, it would have driven the entire economy into a depression. And basically from a practical standpoint, the cost of preventing that was dramatically lower than the cost of cleaning up a depression in the economy."
Effect on sales
Whether the political rhetoric levies a direct impact on the showroom floor is unclear.
Ferguson, GM's vice president for global public policy, said the company's internal research shows the bailout's impact is still visible on sales.
"But it's much diminished," he said. "I think most Americans have seen that General Motors is back on its feet and very profitable and making good products."
Morningstar analyst David Whiston said the impact is negligible. "Of course there are consumers that are angry about it and may never buy a GM car, but I just don't think it's big enough to be impacting their sales numbers."
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said: "The honest answer is we won't know until we find out -- we'll see how the tone of it goes."
More Details: U.S. Treasury Department and GM, an uncomfortable
Amount government provided to GM in 2009 for bailout
Amount still owed
Number of common shares owned by U.S.
Percentage of GM common stock owned by U.S.
Approximate percentage of GM stock owned by U.S., if all outstanding warrants were exercised
GM stock at Friday close
GM stock at initial public offering in November 2010
Price GM stock would have to reach for government to break even
Amount U.S. would lose if it sold all GM stock today
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