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G.M.'s Wagoner: Credit still flowing for car loans

Despite tough economy, GM's CEO sees hopeful signs in rate cuts and sales of some models.

Richard Wagoner, CEO of General Motors, was the guest at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast March 11, 2008 in Washington, DC.

Andy Nelson/ The Christian Science Monitor

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While the housing industry has been hit hard by a credit crunch, automakers are not seeing a similar dramatic slowdown in car loans.

That's one of the encouraging signs that Richard Wagoner, chairman and CEO of General Motors, is seeing as he steers the giant company through choppy seas.

"We observe credit standards are tightening by providers of credit, but the ability to offer credit has remained and we hope that continues because that is critical and will be a part of how quickly auto industry sales come back," he said at a Monitor breakfast Tuesday.

Mr. Wagoner represents a change of pace for the Monitor breakfasts, normally a venue for politicians. But he arguably wields greater power than many members of Congress. GM is the nation's third largest corporation when ranked by sales, according to Fortune Magazine. The company operates in 33 states and multiple international locations.

Wagoner is tall and trim, looking very much like the former Duke University basketball player he is. "We're a big player in society," he said, while picking at a fruit plate.

He declined to say whether the company would be profitable in 2008 – it lost $38.7 billion last year – Wagoner said the stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year would have a helpful effect on the economy "relatively soon ... probably more in June than May."

New models with greater consumer appeal, like the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS, are adding "good momentum" to sales, Wagoner said. But he added, "frankly we look for a time period when we are not selling against a pretty tough economy."

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