$15.5 billion quarterly loss is GM's 3rd worst

With another huge quarterly loss now in its rearview mirror, General Motors faces the ominous task of raising revenue by selling cars rather than trucks.

But even with plans to boost production of its hot-selling fuel-efficient models and cut output of unpopular trucks and sport utility vehicles, the company is running short on time if it keeps burning through more than $1 billion in cash every month.

GM on Friday reported a $15.5 billion second-quarter loss, the third-worst quarterly performance in its nearly 100-year history. Through the first half of the year it used up more than $7 billion in cash, including $3.6 billion from April through June.

Company officials seem optimistic that a combination of expense cuts, increased car production and the introduction of new vehicles will slow the cash burn and eventually return GM to the black. But they're still prepared for an economic downturn that could last until 2010.

“Ultimately we're going to have to grow the business in a tough market,” conceded Chief Financial Officer Ray Young.

The third quarter didn't start well for the company. On Friday it reported that July sales fell 26 percent compared with the same month last year as high gas prices continued to cut into pickup truck and SUV sales. U.S. sales overall fell 13 percent for the month.

GM has said that 18 of its next 19 new products will be cars and crossover vehicles, decisions made years ago in anticipation of the market shift away from trucks. But the company says it can't move faster on the new models because machinery has to be purchased and suppliers must gear up to make parts, both of which take several years to accomplish.

In a conference call with reporters and analysts, GM officials went to great lengths to explain how they'll survive the downturn. They have $26 billion in cash and credit lines available and plan to raise another $15 billion through cost cuts, borrowing and asset sales for a total of $41 billion.

Chief Operating Officer and President Fritz Henderson said the company needs at least $11billion to $14 billion for operations, which gives GM a cushion of about $27 billion before hitting critical cash levels.

At current spending rates, GM would be at its minimum level near the end of 2010, but several industry analysts said they don't expect the auto giant to fall that far.