"If I'm the Big Three, I'm going to Washington and pointing out the sales numbers," Brown said.
All three would also commit to producing far more fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids and electric cars. For example, Ford pledged to produce an electric van by 2010 and electric passenger cars by 2011.
Ford has said it would explore the sale of its Volvo brand but indicated that it would not necessarily need access to the $9-billion line of credit it requested.
"Ford is in a very different situation from our competitors because we believe our company has the necessary liquidity to weather this downturn," said Jim Farley, Ford's head of sales and marketing. Ford mortgaged much of the company to borrow $23 billion in late 2006, a crucial decision that has protected it -- somewhat -- from the down market.
In its business plan, Ford said it was on track to return to profitability by 2011. Through the third quarter of this year, Ford has lost $8.7 billion, while GM has lost more than $21 billion. GM executives have said the company has been unable to borrow money in the last six months.
As a privately held company, Chrysler does not open its books, but it said in Tuesday's plan that a "perfect storm" of declining sales, frozen credit markets and a weak global economy had "jeopardized our ability to complete the dramatic restructuring plan that we began in 2007."
In a plan relatively short on detail, Chrysler suggested that a merger or manufacturing alliance with another automaker could save it as much as $9 billion a year.
Of all three proposals, GM's is by far the most sweeping.
The company seeks to reduce its debt load to $30 billion from $62 billion, in part by persuading bondholders to swap their bonds for equity in the company.
Such a move has been criticized by debt-rating firms, which warn that they might view it as a default.
In addition, with government money in hand, GM would reduce the models it sells in the U.S. to 40 by 2012, from 48 today. It would also increase efficiency at factories while closing nearly a dozen of them and reducing its workforce to as few as 65,000 hourly employees from 96,000 today.
GM also said it would sell or retire its Saturn and Saab brands and transform Pontiac from a stand-alone brand to a "niche specialty" line sold in Buick-GMC-Cadillac dealerships. At the same time, it would thin the ranks of its dealers to 4,700 from 6,540.
That could be extremely costly, because closing dealers and eliminating brands can cost billions because of franchise agreements signed by the automakers. Wagoner indicated that GM did not have all the answers at this time.
"This marks the beginning of the process," Wagoner said in a conference call with reporters. "These aren't the kinds of things we like to do, but we have to be robust enough to handle them."
Separately, GM held a call with dealers Tuesday to discuss its plans. Details were not made public.
The company also suggested that it would seek concessions from the United Auto Workers. The union has called an extraordinary meeting in Detroit today, and its leadership has expressed willingness to bend in a few areas, including reducing or ending the "jobs bank" program that continues to pay workers from factories that are idled or closed.
How Congress receives the industry's new road maps remains to be seen.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) contends that some sort of financial aid is crucial. "Everybody around the world is in essentially the same situation. . . . and other countries are clearly coming to the support of their auto industries because of the importance of these jobs to their economies," Levin said.
Bensinger and Puzzanghera are Times staff writers.