Obama: U.S. auto industry is back on track

Chuck Sweeny

Speaking Thursday morning to an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 Ford workers and retirees at the South Side plant built in 1924 by Henry Ford, President Barack Obama touted the comeback of the American auto industry.

Boasting that all three domestic auto firms are “making money for the first time in six years,” the president said “55,000 auto jobs were added in 2009.” And to help Ford, he announced a $250 million loan guarantee from the Export Import Bank to help Ford sell 200,000 U.S. made vehicles in Mexico, Canada and around the world.

He drove a Ford Explorer and lauded American workers, calling them the best in the world.

“Don’t bet against the American worker. Don’t lose faith in the American people. Don’t lose faith in American industry. We are coming back,” the president said to cheers from the workers.”

The Ford factory in Chicago is is hiring 1,200 people and adding a second shift as the company gears up for fall production of a fuel-efficient Explorer SUV. Suppliers will add another 600 jobs.

With a boost from a U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee, Ford has invested $400 million in improving the Chicago factory for the new Explorer. The plant also builds the Taurus, the Lincoln MKS and the Police Interceptor.

Obama used the event to lash out at Republicans who have derided the $60 billion auto bailout that helped Chrysler and General Motors stay in business.

“A lot of people in Washington, the ‘just say no’ crowd, would have let the domestic auto industry die,” Obama said. GOP critics have called Obama a socialist partly because the government is now a major investor in GM and Chrysler.

Ford did not accept bailout money and the company is making money in North America and around the world. .Ford earned $5 billion in first half of 2010 and has reported pretax operating profits for four quarters in row, the company said.

Obama made note of Ford’s independence from the bailout, but added that if GM and Chrysler had been allowed to die, as some free marketers urged, many suppliers would have closed their doors too, and “the American brand would have been diminished.”

Ford would have felt that impact, he said.

The Import Export Bank loan guarantee is backed by the U.S. but it’s not likely taxpayers will have to shell out any money, said Fred H. Hochberg, the bank’s chairman and president, who was at the event. The bank is convinced the cars will sell, he said.

Ford also received a U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee to make $400 million in investments to the Chicago, improving the Chicago factory.

Retired Ford plant employee Earl Dukes proudly wore an Obama T-shirt to the speech. Dukes, who worked at Ford for 38 years, said the nation faces monumental challenges, and it’s wrong to think the president can do everything.

“He did promise to bring change, though, and he has do deliver,” Dukes said. Lasting change requires “more commitment by fathers and mothers to raise their children right,” said Dukes, who brought up five children. “All of them went to college.”

Obama had returned to Chicago on Wednesday to celebrate his 49th birthday with friends at posh River North restaurant. After Thursday morning’s Ford factory tour and rally, Obama appeared at two fund raisers designed to boost Democratic candidates in the Nov. 2 election, most notably the U.S. Senate candidacy of Alexi Giannoulias, who is in a tough fight with Republican Mark Kirk. The day’s fund-raising goal was reported to be $2.5 million.

Rockford Register Star