A woman from Michigan whose family members who work for GM and Ford prompted President Obama to provide a sneak preview of an announcement about automakers to likely take place on Monday.
"What specific steps do you see your administration taking about the health of the auto industry?" he was asked at a town hall meeting.
The president called it a "very topical question because I’m going to be making some announcements over the next several days about the auto industry. I don’t want to make all the news here today, so I’m not going to be as specific as you’d like, but I guarantee in the next few days you will have a very extensive answer on what we need to do."
Mr. Obama said as a "general philosophical approach" he believes "we need to preserve a U.S. auto industry…but the price is that you’ve got to finally restructure to deal with these long-standing problems. And that means that everybody is going to have to give a little bit — shareholders, workers, creditors, suppliers, dealers — everybody is going to have to recognize that the current model, economic model, of the U.S. auto industry is unsustainable."
The president said his administration expects "the automakers are going to be working with us to restructure" — but with the onus on automakers. "Can they come up with a viable plan? If they’re not willing to make the changes and the restructurings that are necessary, then I’m not willing to have taxpayer money chase after bad money," he said.
"And so a lot of it’s going to depend on their willingness to make some pretty drastic changes," he added. "And some of those are still going to be painful because I think you’re not going to see a situation where the U.S. automakers are gaining the kind of share that they had back in the 1950s. I mean, we just didn’t have any competition back then, Japan was in rubble, Europe was in rubble — we were the only players around. And that’s not going to be true. This is going to be a competitive global market. We have to make those adjustments."
Asked at the White House briefing if the president was upset at auto executives, press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "I think there’s a frustration on the part of this President and on the part of many Americans that we didn’t just get into this situation because of a global economic slowdown; that though the President believes that automakers manufacture cars that Americans want to buy, I think the President also believes that they could manufacture more cars that Americans want to buy; that it’s not surprising that some have sought to end different model lines that, driving around in a car that gets 10 miles…to a gallon of gas when gas is $4 a gallon."
"The President has had some frustration with the way the companies have done business for a long time," he said.