A new analysis by the Canadian Auto Workers union indicates General Motors’ and Chrysler’s Canadian branches racked up an estimated $36.7 billion in after-tax profits between 1972 and 2007, but one analyst questioned the accuracy of the study’s numbers.

The report, written by CAW economist Jim Stanford, relies on the companies’ publicly reported profits until 1996. After that, Stanford estimates GM’s and Chrysler’s profitability based on industry-wide data from Statistics Canada.

The study says the Canadian auto sector as a whole had more than $100 billion in after-tax net income in the 35-year period, and the CAW estimates that included $31.75 billion at GM and $4.95 billion at Chrysler.

Stanford said the study should make people question why GM and Chrysler — both asking for billions in emergency government loans — say they can’t afford to pay the legacy costs of retired workers.

“That’s not just immoral in my view, it also undermines the legitimacy of the whole pension system,” Stanford said in an interview yesterday.

But Joe D’Cruz, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said the CAW’s numbers may be exaggerated.

“They certainly don’t reflect the fact in the last three or four years, both GM and Chrysler have been losing significant amounts of money and that’s the current reality,” D’Cruz said.

D’Cruz said one of the reasons the companies saw such high profits in the 1990s is because they were “significantly” short-changing their pension funds thanks to a relaxation of funding rules by the Ontario government.

“They’re probably underfunded in GM’s case in the region of $5 billion to $6 billion over the last several years, so if you take those into account, then GM’s profits will be much less than the CAW is estimating,” D’Cruz said.

The CAW study says the auto industry was more profitable than any of Canada’s other heavy industries in the period examined, including metals, chemicals and aerospace and transportation. The study suggests the auto industry made its largest profits in the late 1990s and only lost money once, in 2002.

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