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Obama unveils plan to help U.S. auto industry

2009-03-30 16:16:45 GMT2009-03-31 00:16:45 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

U.S. President Barack Obama makes an announcement about the American automotive industry in the Grand Foyer at white house in Washinton, on March 30, 2009.(Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks about the American automotive industry while Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stands by in the Grand Foyer at white house in Washinton, on March 30, 2009.(Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the American automotive industry in the Grand Foyer at white house in Washinton, on March 30, 2009.(Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama announced Monday a plan to help the nation's struggling auto industry restructure for the future, preventing its "sudden collapse."

"We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish," the president said.

Obama said his administration will offer General Motors (GM) and Chrysler a limited period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders "to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional tax dollars."

During this period, the automakers "must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success," he said.

GM will get adequate working capital over the next 60 days to produce a reorganization plan acceptable to the administration, while Chrysler is getting up to 6 billion dollars and 30 days to complete a merger deal with Italian automaker Fiat.

To support demand for auto sales during this period, the government will offer tax incentives for auto purchases, and to consumers trading in old cars for newer fuel-efficient models.

GM and Chrysler, two of the nation's Big Three automakers, have been hard hit by the economic downturn and the worst decline in auto sales in 27 years. They got 17.4 billion dollars in emergency loans from the Bush administration in December last year on the condition that they would develop plans to restructure.

Under the terms of the loan agreement reached during the Bush administration, GM and Chrysler are pushing the United Auto Workers (UAW) to accept shares of stock in exchange for half of the payments into a union-run trust fund for retiree health care.

They also want labor costs from the union to be competitive with Japanese automakers with U.S. operations.

The two automakers face a Tuesday deadline to submit completed restructuring plans, but neither company is expected to finish their work.

Moreover, GM is seeking 16.6 billion dollars more, while Chrysler wants 5 billion dollars more.

"What we are asking is difficult," Obama said Monday. "It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers who have already made painful concessions to make even more. It will require creditors to recognize that they cannot holdout for the prospect of endless government bailouts."

"Only then can we ask American taxpayers who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry," he said.

The Obama administration also replaced GM's CEO Rick Wagoner with the company's chief operating officer, Fritz Henderson.

If the automakers fall short, Obama raised the specter of using bankruptcy laws to force their restructuring.

The other one of the Big Three automakers, Ford, has said that it has enough cash to survive the downturn without government aid.

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