From "For a G.M. Family, the American Dream Vanishes" in The New York Times:
G.M.’s problem, at least in terms of its costs, is the enormous price of health care benefits for hundreds of thousands of retirees. G.M. is the largest private provider of health care, covering more than a million Americans. …
G.M. plans to cut its blue-collar work force even further, though, to 86,000 Americans nationwide by the end of 2008, about the same number of people it once employed in Flint alone in the 1970’s. At its peak, G.M. employed more than 600,000 Americans.
“Frankly in our business, the progress in improving productivity has been dramatic,” Mr. Wagoner said. “Over a 10-year period, we have gone from a ballpark of 40-plus hours a vehicle in assembly to 20-plus hours a vehicle.”
Benefits are another matter. G.M. pays about $1,500 per car assembled in the United States for health care, more than it spends on steel.