Early returns on the buyout packages offered to hourly workers at

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

and

Delphi

(DPHIQ)

sound promising to Wall Street, but new financial incentives being offered to customers serve as a harsh reminder of the U.S. automakers' dire situation.

Roughly 37,000 workers have accepted financial incentives for early retirement or a buyout at GM and Delphi, according to a

Wall Street Journal

report that cites officials from the United Auto Workers Union. About 28,000 GM employees, or a quarter of its UAW-represented workforce, have opted into the program, while around 9,000 Delphi workers took the offers.

Since GM has said it is seeking to cut 30,000 hourly jobs by 2008 through attrition and other methods, the results indicate an early success for the world's largest automaker. The ultimate effects of the financial burdens shouldered by GM as a result of program, one of the largest employee buyouts in U.S. corporate history, remain unclear, but Wall Street views the numbers as a big step toward restructuring the company's bloated cost structure.

"The more people that quit, the more cost savings there will be for GM in the long run, so that's the reason why Wall Street is excited about these numbers," says David Healy, analyst with Burnham Securities.

Claudia Piccinin, a Delphi spokeswoman, wouldn't comment on the buyout numbers. She said official results of the buyout programs will be made public next week, but she called initial results "encouraging." Delphi, GM's largest auto parts supplier and its former subsidiary, declared bankruptcy early this year, and it's locked in negotiations with GM and the UAW in an effort to restructure its cost structure without igniting a debilitating labor strike.

Representatives from GM and the UAW did not immediately return phone calls about the reports.

While strong acceptance of the buyouts bodes well for the cost side of GM's business, news that the automaker will begin offering zero-percent financing for six years on unsold 2006 models as soon as next week signaled that it continues to struggle on the all-important sales side.

The Detroit Free Press

quoted unnamed dealers and industry sources as saying that GM would be offering new incentives as its U.S. counterparts,

Ford

(F) - Get Report

and

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

, commence zero-percent financing programs of their own.

"As usual, there's not much wrong with the auto industry as a whole, but the

Asian-based manufacturers like

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

and Honda are doing most of the selling," Healy says. "These zero-percent financing deals are now far more expensive to these companies than they were when

former

Federal Reserve

Chairman Alan Greenspan was keeping rates down around 1%."

Ford recently began offering no-interest loans and providing $1,000 gas cards to buyers of most of the vehicles in its 2006 lineup.

"Ford is committed to stabilizing their market share, and they've got nothing to do it with except price," says Healy.

DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler unit said Thursday that it would roll out a new discount program around July 1 that could include employee-level pricing for any new-car buyer.

"This is a sign of Detroit's fundamental weakness in products," says Healy.