GM Wants U.S. Loans; Just Please Don't Call it a Handout

Last Updated Sep 15, 2008 8:55 AM EDT

GM_logoGeneral Motors is using its so-called "Facts and Fiction" web site to try and build support for U.S. government loans, to help U.S. automakers develop technology to save fuel and reduce air pollution.

Quote-unquote "Myth" No. 1 on the site is that "GM is looking for a government handout."

Heaven forbid, GM says. "Fact: We are not seeking a bailout, or a handout. We are talking about loans, which must be repaid in full, with interest."

My friend Warren Brown at the Washington Post points out in an article (titled, "Give Carmakers a Little Respect â€" and a Loan" ) that foreign automakers get plenty of government help, so why not the Detroit 3? GM posted an excerpt of the article on its site, and provided a link to the entire article.

For sure, Brown points out that U.S. automakers are at fault for developing gas-guzzling trucks and raking in the profits, instead of coming up with more fuel-efficient vehicles on their own (GM didn't quote that part on its site). However, he also notes that by keeping gasoline taxes low by world standards, U.S. government policy provided the cheap gasoline that made it all possible.

Congress late last year already approved the idea of the government loans. But in the bizarro world that is Washington, lawmakers approved the loans but didn't provide the money. GM is asking Congress to fund the loans, which after all, will be used largely to meet tougher government rules for Corporate Average Fuel Economy, which were passed at the same time.

What gets me, as I noted in an earlier blog, is GM's wounded attitude, like its corporate feelings are hurt at the suggestion that it's asking for a little special treatment. Come on, a loan may not be a "handout," but under the circumstances, the term "bailout" sounds just about right.

For anyone still missing GM's obvious message, here's another not-so-subtle, so-called "Myth" on the GM site: "GM no longer matters to the U.S. or its economy."

In fact, GM needlessly points out: "The U.S.-based auto industry remains a vital part of the economy. It generates more employment, annual economic output, exports, and retail business than any other industry. It directly employs a quarter of a million Americans, and supports another 5 million at dealerships, suppliers and service providers."

I don't hear anybody denying that, even as GM is trying to portray the idea as a widespread "myth" that needs debunking. GM's PR approach here is about as subtle as the classic National Lampoon cover, with a hand holding a revolver to a dog's head: "Buy this Magazine, or the Dog Gets It!"