Autos Task Force Sees Chrysler, GM Electric Cars

By: Tom Krisher, Associated Press Email
By: Tom Krisher, Associated Press Email

WARREN, Mich. (AP) - Four members of President Barack Obama's
autos task force spent much of their Monday driving General Motors
Corp. electric vehicles and touring a Chrysler LLC pickup truck
factory.

The members, led by Wall Street financier Steven Rattner and
Steelworkers union official Ron Bloom, traveled first to GM's tech
center in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Mich., and then drove to
Chrysler's Warren Truck plant.

GM and Chrysler are living on a total of $17.4 billion in
government loans, and the task force is trying to determine if they
will get more money. The companies have requested a total of $39
billion as they try to survive the worst U.S. auto sales downturn
in 27 years.

Task force members first visited the sprawling GM tech center,
where they were greeted by Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and
test-drove white and silver Chevrolet Volt electric cars, according
to shots taken from television news helicopters.

Then it was off to the Chrysler plant in a 2009 silver Jeep
Grand Cherokee Laredo driven by Bloom, where they met with top
Chrysler executives, including CEO Bob Nardelli, Vice Chairmen Jim
Press and Tom LaSorda and Chief Financial Officer Ron Kolka.

They entered the plant near an auditorium in which the company
had placed several of its future products, including electric and
hybrid vehicles. The plant employs about 2,600 workers.

Both companies are working on rechargeable electric vehicles
like the Volt that can go around 40 miles on a single charge from a
household outlet. After 40 miles, small internal combustion engines
kick in to generate electricity and power the car farther. Chrysler
and GM have pledged to bring the electric vehicles to market
sometime next year.

The automakers were eager to show off new products in an effort
to prove they can become viable despite billions of dollars in
losses. Chrysler lost $8 billion last year, while GM lost $30.9
billion.

Without government help, both companies would have run out of
money early this year.

Bloom, Rattner and the others arrived at the Chrysler plant just
as the second shift was heading for work making the Dodge Ram
pickup.

An Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because the meetings were private, said the task force
members also met with United Auto Workers President Ron
Gettelfinger and other top union officials for two hours.

During the day of meetings, task force members conveyed that the
administration understands the sense of urgency facing the troubled
auto industry, the official said.

GM and Chrysler both issued short statements saying they were
happy with the opportunity to show the task force members their new
products.

"We believe today's visit provided a constructive glimpse of GM
people, their passion for their work, and the future products and
technologies that are an integral part of our viability plan,"
GM's statement said.

Melvin Thompson, a worker and former union official at the Dodge
truck plant, said Monday the visit to Warren shows that Rattner and
Bloom are interested in learning about the industry.

"It adds a human touch to the decisions that they make," he
said as he left the plant after working the first shift. "They're
determined not to be insulated from their decisions."

The task force is trying to figure out how best to save the
struggling GM and Chrysler as well as their parts suppliers. Ford
Motor Co. has yet to take government aid, but is burning up
billions in cash and lost $14.6 billion last year.

A collapse of the auto industry could lead to as many as 3
million lost jobs at a time when the fragile economy couldn't
handle it, industry analysts have said.

The government can recall its loans to GM and Chrysler if they
fail to sign deals for debt restructuring and other concessions
from stakeholders including the UAW by March 31. GM and Chrysler
are seeking $21.6 billion in additional financing to execute
turnaround plans submitted last month.

Last week GM said in its annual report that auditors raised
serious doubt about the Detroit automaker's ability to continue
operating. GM has received $13.4 billion in federal loans and is
seeking an additional $16.6 billion. Chrysler has received $4
billion in federal loans and is asking for $5 billion more.

Some Republican senators in Washington are pushing for GM to
enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

GM has said the restructuring can be accomplished without
bankruptcy and said Chapter 11 would scare off customers who would
be fearful that the company wouldn't be around to honor warranties
or make replacement parts.
---
Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to
this report.


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