Under fire, the automotive giant will unveil its plan Tuesday for coping with $4-a-gallon gasoline.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- In opera, it isn't over until the fat lady sings. In the auto business, it isn't official until General Motors opens its mouth.
That day comes Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware when embattled GM (GM, Fortune 500) chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner will explain to shareholders just how the automaker plans to survive the changes sweeping the industry.
Observers from Tokyo to Toledo will be paying close attention.
Automakers are going through an unprecedented two-dip depression in the U.S. Not only is the subprime crisis and the attendant economic slump driving sales to a 15-year low. But also, expensive gasoline and looming federal and state fuel economy standards have sent panicked consumers fleeing from their pickup trucks and SUVs, which are very profitable for Detroit, into low-profit or no profit passenger cars.
Late to catch this trend as usual, General Motors and Ford (F, Fortune 500) are frantically rewriting their product plans for the next dozen years to account for changing standards while they try to prop up sales of their current model lines in the short term.
Meanwhile, there is chaos at the nation's dealerships. Light trucks aren't selling so they are sitting in inventory. Owners aren't buying because they either can't sell the truck they have or can't get the price they need in order to afford the down payment on a new one. Other customers, who took advantage of easy credit terms a year or two ago, are failing to make their monthly payments and getting their vehicles repossessed.
Ford stepped up the plate first. Twelve days ago, it announced production cuts, the accelerated introduction of more small cars, and continued shrinkage of the company. Along with that came the news that it couldn't make the auto business profitable in 2009 as it had promised, and then later, that its U.S. market share would fall below the level that it had targeted.
Expect GM to announce much of the same production cutbacks and shifts in product emphasis on Tuesday. It won't be as specific about future earnings as Ford because it got out of the guidance game a couple of years ago.