General Motors Corp. owes its top suppliers more than $500 million, and the bankrupt auto maker is seeking court permission to pay them as quickly as possible to prevent further financial distress for suppliers and to ensure a steady flow of parts into GM assembly plants.

Topping the list of suppliers with unsecured claims against the auto maker is its former parts unit, Delphi Corp., which split from GM in 1999, has been bankrupt since October 2005 and announced plans today to exit Chapter 11.

GM owes Delphi $110.8 million, according to a consolidated list of creditors submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York as part of the case.

The remaining top 10 supplier claimants are:

  • Robert Bosch GmbH ($66.2 million)
  • Lear Corp. ($44.8 million)
  • Renco Group Inc., owner of Inteva Products ($37.3 million)
  • Johnson Controls Inc. ($32.8 million)
  • Denso Corp. ($29.2 million)
  • TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. ($27.5 million)
  • Magna International Inc. ($26.7 million)
  • American Axle & Mfg. ($26.7 million)
  • Continental AG ($15.5 million)

A dozen other suppliers appear on the list as well, including four steel producers.

In a separate filing Monday, GM refers to its suppliers as “essential to maximizing value because either they are the only source for a particular part, supply, or service or obtaining a replacement

source would entail substantial delay or significantly increased costs.”

Many of these suppliers “will not be able to sustain their own operations” unless the earlier debts are repaid, the pleading says.

GM also asks the court for permission to “continue providing financial and operational assistance” to struggling suppliers. A failure of any of the companies could disrupt assembly of GM vehicles.

The auto maker wants to remain active in the U.S. Treasury’s Auto Supplier Support Program, which provides up to $5 billion in emergency aid to suppliers of GM and Chrysler LLC as they restructure while in bankruptcy.

GM seeks court approval to continue paying suppliers through the federal support program and to add new suppliers as they become financially or operationally distressed.

Despite GM’s attempts to calm the supplier community about the impact of its bankruptcy filing, tensions are running high in a sector battered by dramatically reduced vehicle sales and limited credit availability.

The Association For Manufacturing Technology, based in McLean, VA, is urging Congress and the Obama Admin. to protect suppliers that are vital to the future success of GM.

The organization is asking Washington to expand the aid program to include manufacturing technology providers.

“GM has so far received $19.4 billion from the federal government to cover operations and losses,” says Douglas Woods, AMT president. “The total could reach as much as $50 billion in government support. Some portion of the additional funds should be funneled toward its key manufacturing technology providers.”

In the court filing, GM also raises concerns some sole-source suppliers that do not meet the court’s definition of “essential vendors” may threaten to withhold parts shipments unless claims are paid.

GM says it anticipates “a small percentage of suppliers that are either unfamiliar with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code or simply decide to be recalcitrant will engage in such behavior.”

In that case, GM “would be left with no practical short-term response or alternative to such threats” and would quickly face “the likely shutdown of certain of their operations.”

Some suppliers with contracts soon to expire “may demand treatment as an essential vendor, using that as leverage to renegotiate a new contract with more onerous terms,” GM says.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com