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Obama Tours Auto Plants to Spotlight Industry Recovery

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President Barack Obama visited two automobile manufacturing plants near Detroit, Michigan, to spotlight progress made in helping the U.S. auto industry recover from near collapse.  

From the brink of collapse, when President Obama took office and forced the government to step in to support General Motors and Chrysler, the auto industry has made steady progress.

The administration points to statistics showing that after huge job losses linked to the U.S. financial crisis, auto industry job growth is on track to be the strongest in more than a decade, adding 55,000 jobs since the middle of 2009.

The president was welcomed to the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant, where the car company employs just over 2,800 workers.

Rather than simply bailing out auto companies, or doing nothing to hasten their complete collapse, Mr. Obama said he chose to give workers, management and unions the chance to reorganize and be more competitive. "I placed that faith in you and all of America's auto workers, and you have vindicated that belief.  The fact that we're standing in this magnificent factory today is a testament to the decisions we made and the sacrifices that you and countless stakeholders across this industry and this country were willing to make," he said.

Introducing the president was Leah Soehartono, a 42-year-old auto insurance accountant who said she went from being unemployed for two years to obtaining a job with Chrysler. "I am confident that the economy is improving and that the success I have achieved is obtainable and possible for others to achieve in these hard economic times," he said.

Later, the president toured the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, which is producing the Chevrolet Volt, a gasoline-electric vehicle.

With a price of $41,000 per car, it remains to be seen whether Americans will choose to purchase the Volt over offerings by other car-makers, such as Nissan's all-electric vehicle, the 'Leaf'.

Before the president's trip, Ron Bloom, senior advisor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, told reporters at the White House that the government, with holds a 61 percent share of General Motors, has refused to get involved in pricing decisions. "I'm not going to get into a debate about whether General Motors, on this particular matter, has the correct business strategy.  There are dozens and dozens of business decisions they make every day.  They believe that people will buy this car in the sufficient number that they are manufacturing," he said.

President Obama's auto plant visits in Detroit, and another next week to a Ford company plant in Chicago, have a dual purpose.  

They are pep talks for an industry critical to economic recovery, and also platforms the president uses as he ramps up campaigning for Democrats in Congress ahead of the November mid-term congressional election.

In his remarks on Friday, Mr. Obama pointed to suggestions by those he called "naysayers" and the "just say no crowd" -- a reference to some opposition Republicans who asserted that auto companies should be allowed to fail. "They said we should just walk away and let those jobs go.  I wish they were standing here today.  I wish they could see what I am seeing in this plant and talk to the workers who are here taking pride in building a world-class vehicle.  I don't think they would be willing to look you in the eye and see you were a bad investment," he said.

While Mr. Obama said more work remains to bring the auto industry back, he also had some blunt talk for auto workers in Detroit, saying that while the industry is growing stronger, many jobs that were lost will not return.

To address that, the administration is focusing attention on its efforts to switch the nation to clean energy and the job growth it says would come with this, including training for unemployed auto workers.

Related Report by Carolyn Presutti

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