美國的新車銷售面臨著相當嚴峻的形勢。2008年10月的新車銷售量約為83萬輛，比上年同月減少約34.6％，所有汽車廠商與上年同月相比均為負增長（參閱本站報導）。 通用（除Saab外）減少47.3％，福特汽車（除富豪外）減少31.9％，克萊斯勒（Chrysler）減少37.4％，美國汽車業界三巨頭均處於低迷 狀態，三巨頭向美國政府請求資助的新聞連日見諸報端。日本廠商也遭到巨大打擊，豐田比上年同月減少25.9％，本田同比減少28.0％，日產同比減少 35.4％。2007年達到全年近1600萬輛的美國新車銷售量，在2008年甚至可能低於1300萬輛。
此前將汽車定位於今後快速增長業務的電子廠商為數眾多，因此，以發達國家為中心的新車銷售量減少已開始對這些廠商產生巨大影響。日本先鋒甚至 因此導致社長更迭。該公司在發佈2008財年7～9月結算數據的同時，宣佈了董事長鬚藤民彥的辭職、常務董事小谷進于2008年11月16日就任董事長的 人事變動。其原因是2008年度先鋒全年業績預期的營業損益，從最初預想的盈利70億日元變成了虧損170億日元。產生虧損的起因是，此前作為救命稻草的 汽車關聯業務出現了下滑。
松下甚至期望，在力爭達到1兆日元銷售額規模的汽車電子領域，“三洋電機能成為業績增長的引擎”（大坪）。其中，由於混合動力車等電動車輛用 充電電池的需求將出現爆炸式增長，因此，預計兩家大型鋰離子充電電池銷售商的聯手合作將產生巨大的協同效應。與松下攜手豐田汽車成立合資公司的情況不同， 三洋電機則與多家汽車廠商聯合開發鋰離子充電電池，所以，兩公司合作的是通過強強聯合，擴大在電動車輛領域的市場佔有率（筆者注：不過，汽車廠商極不情願 看到聯手開發計劃洩露給對手的情況，因此松下如何對待三洋電機的電池業務，將對兩公司今後的業務擴大帶來很大影響）。
由於此次金融危機造成的影響巨大，因此汽車市場從嚴重的衰退中走出來將需要相當長時間。因此，汽車廠商對電子設備廠商及電子部品廠商的降低成 本要求，將比此前更為強烈。如果在汽車廠商本來就相當苛刻的降低成本要求之外，再加上作為全球發展趨勢、低價格小型車進一步普及，那麼電子廠商的盈利空間 將變得更小。如果不以改變材料及製造製程為首，在所有製程上節能降耗，以此滿足汽車廠商的要求，那麼就將會丟掉訂單。
在努力降低成本的同時，還不應忘記，必需進行著眼于未來的產品開發。支援環保以及減少交通事故等消除汽車負面影響的舉措，今後將是不可或缺 的。而且，這些舉措少不了電動車輛及無線通信技術等電子技術。經濟形勢總是時好時壞，雖然目前不景氣，但形勢總會好起來。將來的汽車業界將如何發展、甚或 說是否能夠發展，取決於在如此不景氣的情況下仍能準確掌握需求及增長點、並不斷推進產品開發的廠商，這樣才能將汽車業務打造成業績增長的支柱。（記者：狩 集 浩志）
Is General Motors Worth Saving?
For months, General Motors had been telling everyone who would listen that bankruptcy was not an option. It had a $30 billion cash pile and plans to restructure the company as the economy rebounded and 2007 U.S. auto sales topped 16 million units.
Then came October. Sales plummeted an astounding 45% over the same period last year, a result of a slowing economy and a dearth of financing for would-be car buyers. Total U.S. car and light-truck sales this year could come in at 13.5 million, 2.6 million fewer than last year. "That's in nobody's business plan," says Kimberly Rodriguez, an automotive specialist with Grant Thornton. "The best planning in the world cannot survive that fluctuation." It's now clear that GM can't survive as an ongoing entity without massive federal assistance. The company is burning through more than $2 billion each month. It has $16 billion left. As if they were aboard a dirigible losing altitude, GM's bosses have been frantically throwing all manner of stuff overboard — retiree health-care benefits, people, assets, new car design — to conserve $5 billion. That will get it through the year. (See pictures of the 50 worst cars of all time.)
But 2009 is the year of reckoning for GM and the rest of the domestic auto industry, if not the economy as a whole. The GM crisis is raising once again the issue of how far the government should go in rescuing banks, insurance companies, mortgage holders, credit-card issuers and now carmakers. GM has no doubts about it. "Immediate federal funding is essential in order for the U.S. automotive industry to weather this downturn," GM president Fritz Henderson admitted to investors during a conference call in which GM announced a third-quarter loss of $2.5 billion.
No one is more aware of that need than Barack Obama, who carried Michigan by a huge margin. The President-elect is committed to helping the Detroit Three, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a rescue party that plans to get a bailout bill in front of President Bush before Thanksgiving. So far, the President has offered only to speed through Congress an already approved $25 billion loan to help Detroit create new fuel-efficient models. But GM needs an additional $10 billion simply to pay its bills next year and $15 billion more to close plants, compensate redundant workers and dump some of its lesser-performing brands.
The issue boils down to a historic proposition: Is what's good for GM still good for the country?
"If GM were to go into a free-fall bankruptcy and didn't pay its trade debts, then the entire domestic auto industry shuts down," says Rodriguez. The system — the domestic auto plants and their interconnected group of suppliers — is far bigger than GM. It includes 54 North American manufacturing plants and at least 4,000 so-called Tier 1 suppliers — firms that feed parts and subassemblies directly to those plants. That includes mom-and-pop outfits but also a dozen or so large companies such as Lear, Johnson Controls and GM's former captive Delphi. Beyond those are thousands of the suppliers' suppliers.
Although the Detroit Three directly employed about 240,000 people last year, according to the industry-allied Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Mich., the multiplier effect is large, which is typical in manufacturing. Throw in the partsmakers and other suppliers, and you have an additional 974,000 jobs. Together, says CAR, these 1.2 million workers spend enough to keep 1.7 million more people employed. That gets you to 2.9 million jobs tied to the Detroit Three, and even if you discount the figures because of CAR's allegiance, it's a big number. Shut down Detroit, and the national unemployment rate heads toward 10% in a hurry. (See Pictures of the Week.)
Even if just one of the Detroit Three — and GM is the most likely, as Ford is in better shape and Chrysler is much smaller — spiraled into a free-fall bankruptcy, the systemic effects, at least initially, would be huge. The whole industry would not be able to build cars in the U.S., because of the lack of parts. "Unlike the airlines or steel, when you look at the automobile industry and the fact that the whole supplier base is connected — to Ford, Chrysler, Toyota — it will have a ripple effect on the entire industry," says Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale, a bankruptcy expert at the Detroit office of Foley & Lardner, a law firm that represents some GM suppliers.
A carefully planned, prepackaged bankruptcy would still be troublesome, she says. Throwing 479,000 GM retirees onto the rolls of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., for instance, could overwhelm it. And GM's agreement to fund the United Auto Workers' voluntary employee beneficiary association (VEBA) — thus getting a $50 billion unfunded liability off its books — might then be in jeopardy, as would the union's health benefits. The VEBA has already saved GM nearly $5 billion in the past quarter, and still greater benefits lie ahead.
A bailout won't spare GM or its workers pain. Assuming the government bridges GM to the future — or provides debtor-in-possession financing in a bankruptcy — there is still a ton of restructuring to do. The company operates 21 plants in North America and has three more that are scheduled to close. But Grant Thornton's Rodriguez says that still leaves five to go to match demand. "They still need to take structural steps: reduce suppliers, reduce the number of plants, reduce the cost structure and get rid of excessive debt." Most analysts say GM has to dump underperforming brands too.
Shutting down plants and cutting labor are costly — it's one of the ironies of the auto business. Deutsche Bank estimates that GM would have to spend $12 billion to chop labor costs and compensate dealers who lose their franchises. That would lower GM's North American operating costs from the current $31 billion to $25 billion annually, says Deutsche Bank. (See pictures of the global financial crisis.)
None of this can happen without the cooperation of the UAW, which is probably feeling better knowing that Obama is on his way to Washington. Although it hasn't shown its hand, the UAW may try to mitigate job losses in the U.S. by pushing GM and Ford to build fewer vehicles in Mexico, according to Sean McAlinden, chief economist at CAR. Obama might be sympathetic to that argument; he said during the campaign that NAFTA needed to be re-examined. The carrot for GM is that any new workers it hires in the U.S. will make $13 to $14 an hour and collect limited benefits rather than work for $29 an hour and get full benefits — the old UAW wage.
There's also a legitimate question as to who would do the restructuring. GM CEO Rick Wagoner has made the case that his crew is best placed to run the turnaround since it knows where the cost buttons are. But critics like Jim Schrager at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business say the wrong people are in charge: "I think you would only put money in GM if you had a complete change in the board and the current management. They are diligent. They worked very hard, but it just hasn't worked." In Schrager's view, GM is a strategic failure. It can manufacture high-quality cars, but it neither makes the right kind nor markets them effectively. He'd bust the company up into three independent firms: Chevy, Buick-Pontiac-GMC and Cadillac-Saab-Saturn.
If that's ultimately where Detroit ends up, is it worth the price to get there? Put another way, does GM deserve to be bailed out or left at the mercy of the market and almost certain death? "The University of Chicago training in me says the market should prevail," says Schrager. "But the Chrysler bailout was a success, and, gosh, I'd love to save it." That sentiment is not shared by everyone, and it goes to the heart of the central economic debate facing the country — between hard-nosed capitalists, who believe the market should decide, and public-policy types who view the economy as something far more organic than a balance sheet. But ultimately, whether GM is dead or alive, the taxpayers are on the hook for billions, for everything from lost tax revenues to higher unemployment costs to taking over GM's pension obligations. The decision that Washington has to make is whether we pay for GM's survival or for its funeral.
— With reporting by Joseph R. Szczesny / Detroit