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Auto dealers get needed relief

The GMAC bailout will free up consumer loans.

Eckenhoff Cadillac in Jenkintown. "These things," a car dealer said of the GMAC bailout, "really spur consumer confidence."
Eckenhoff Cadillac in Jenkintown. "These things," a car dealer said of the GMAC bailout, "really spur consumer confidence."Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

GMAC Financial Services' $5 billion federal rescue, on the heels of the $17.4 billion automaker bailout approved by the Bush administration this month, gives some relief to auto dealers who had blamed the industry's steep drop in sales partially on a lack of affordable credit for car buyers.

Michael Martin, who owns Chevrolet and Saturn brand dealerships in Manassas, Va., said he believed the loans would be key to turning around the auto industry, adding that GMAC's loosening of credit sets an example for banks that have yet to use their bailout funding to free up consumer loans.

"I think these things really spur consumer confidence, too," said Martin, who had already seen customer traffic pick up at his dealerships yesterday. "People are saying it's good to see GMAC back in the marketplace. Whether it's just a euphoric feeling or not, at least it's a positive."

Vehicle sales have declined sharply this year, plunging 37 percent in November to their worst level in more than 26 years, with every major automaker reporting a drop of more than 30 percent. General Motors Corp., which owns 49 percent of GMAC, was among those worst hit, reporting a 41 percent slide for the month. The majority of GMAC is held by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management L.P., which also owns automaker Chrysler L.L.C.

Besides the $5 billion for GMAC, the Treasury will lend up to $1 billion to GM so the company can buy additional equity that GMAC is planning to offer as part of its effort to raise more capital.

In exchange for the funding, the government will receive preferred shares in GMAC that pay an 8 percent dividend and warrants to purchase additional shares.

The Treasury did not require that GMAC engage in more lending as a condition for receiving the government investment, department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said.

The $6 billion in total assistance means that Treasury has now committed more than the first $350 billion from the $700 billion bank rescue, called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, that Congress approved in October. Under the law governing the program, the administration must ask Congress for the second half of the funds.

However, a Treasury official said yesterday that the GMAC financing came from the first $350 billion, since not all of the allocated funds had been spent yet. For example, only about $162 billion from the $250 billion that was set aside in October for investment in the banks has been spent.

But, the official added, "it's clear that Congress will need to release the remainder of the TARP."

The $5 billion investment in GMAC has already been completed. Treasury is seeking to make final the $1 billion loan to GM by Jan. 16.