Car talk’s not very cheerful these days. According to Experian Automotive, nearly $25 billion in car loans are past due, and many car dealerships have closed their doors, with others on the verge of doing the same. Back in September, in Big Auto Companies Request Big Loans From Big Brother, I described Ford’s, GM’s, and Chrysler’s desperate requests for government help. Secretary of the Treasury Paulson was saying a big NO then, and, now some sort of help is being considered. With credit markets not yet thawed despite bailout capital, the auto companies are having trouble borrowing enough money to keep factories running. GM has already closed four pickup truck and SUV plans, and Indianapolis workers are worried that transmission and stamping operations will be closed here.
As a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana, I see the direct effects of the situation in the layoffs that inevitably follow when companies are struggling for survival. The auto industry is especially important in our state. An auto company failure would affect not only those Hoosiers directly employed in the plant, but those who work in sectors supported by car companies, such as parts, accessories, and service. What’s more, retirees receiving health benefits – or their survivors – could be hurt. Meanwhile, with all the past-due consumer loans, lenders are cautious, making it harder for buyers to get behind the wheel of new cars.
With all this bad news, it’s heartening, although ironic, that car talk out of Greensburg, Indiana is very encouraging. Just two months ago the first new Honda Civic rolled off the line in the brand new $500 million plant in Greensburg, and the company expects to hire 2000 employees by next year. That, of course, offers hope to parts and service suppliers hurt by GM’s troubles. With U.S. auto sales declined 13% so far this year, Honda’s sales are up 12%.
News about the Big Three automakers and about Honda is much more than just talk to me. Since job loss is one of the “Big Three” causes of individual bankruptcy, along with medical costs and divorce), I’ve always made it my business to stay current on developments in the employment markets. The bankruptcy system is designed to function as a safety net. The fact is, however, that in order for people to be able to gain relief in order to make a new financial start, they need jobs – and cars to get to those jobs. My work for the past almost twenty-five years is to help folks buy time to regroup before getting back on the road!