General Motors Corp. is softening its opposition to bankruptcy reorganization a little more, with new CEO Fritz Henderson saying in an interview broadcast on Sunday, “if it’s required, that’s what we’ll do.”

GM still prefers to do its restructuring without bankruptcy protection, Henderson said in an interview taped by CNN Friday for its program “State of the Union.”

Henderson’s predecessor Rick Wagoner was sacked last month after the federal auto restructuring task force determined he wasn’t restructuring fast enough or deep enough. Wagoner had resisted bankruptcy, fearing it would drive customers away and force GM into liquidation.

Henderson said the task force and President Barack Obama both indicated that bankruptcy protection “may very well be the best solution for the company to achieve these goals, which is why when you look at the situation, we said, ‘OK, we’ll spend the time to try to complete the work, more aggressive work, outside of the court process, but if it’s required, that’s what we’ll do.”‘

Henderson said the government’s guarantee of GM warranties and its indication that it would lend money to the automaker while it reorganized under bankruptcy protection are both “strong signals which say even if we have to go through bankruptcy, the company’s going to be there.”

Henderson said GM will be “reinvented” with or without bankruptcy protection.

GM will need to scale back its U.S. work force more than it planned as recently as February, Henderson said.

The Detroit automaker said in February it was aiming to shrink U.S. employment to 72,000 by 2012, down from 92,000 hourly and salaried employees at the end of last year. Henderson said the government auto restructuring task force concluded the company needed to cut more, and faster.

That conclusion is “certainly going to require us to be leaner than we had even foreseen in February,” he said. The numbers haven’t been finalized, but they would amount to a “significant additional change for the company,” he said.

Henderson is aiming to minimize the amount of time GM relies on taxpayer money.

“One of the saddest days of my career was when we needed to borrow money from the U.S. taxpayer,” he said. “And I’m quite convinced that one of the happiest days of my career is when we repay it.

AP-ES-04-04-09 1750EDT

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