Former Auto Czar: GM, Chrysler on the Right Track

Obama's manufacturing and auto advisors say troubled companies are moving in the right direction, but remain works in progress.

For all the controversy that surrounded the U.S. government investing $50 billion to ease General Motors through its bankruptcy, the former head of the automakers' task force said on Monday it was a highly worthwhile investment.

Steve Rattner, who ran the task force which oversaw GM and Chrysler Group LLC through government-funded bankruptcy protection last year, reflected on the unique conditions the automakers faced a year ago at a conference on the auto industry held Monday in Detroit.

"I would argue that if the final cost of the GM bailout ends up in the same range as it stands today, our initiative should be valued as a success," said Rattner. "For around $10 billion, we would have succeeded in avoiding all of the economic and human calamities."

Rattner's comments came on the same day that President Obama's manufacturing czar, Ron Bloom, was in the area addressing the Michigan Manufacturers Association, where he spoke of the positive direction the automakers and the nation's manufacturing sector is headed.

"[GM and Chrysler] have been given the unique opportunity to start over and they're seizing it with both hands," said Bloom. "It takes time to turn a supertanker, but the talented and energetic directors and management teams and employees at GM and Chrysler have already made a lot of progress."

Bloom, who serves as President Barack Obama's senior counselor for manufacturing, said he hopes GM will start selling stock to the public, perhaps as early as December. He said the government would like to see the automaker go public in the fourth quarter, so long as economic conditions remain favorable. But the GM would first need to have strong enough finances to support a stock sale, he said, along with broader national economic and auto industry improvements, and stable financial markets.

"We want to be 100% uninvested from both [GM and Chrysler]," said Bloom.

Bloom also highlighted a series of measures he believes could go a long way toward refueling the U.S. manufacturing sector. He said research and development tax credits, which expired at the end of 2009, should be made permanent. Such a bill is currently being weighed in Congress.

Bloom also said federal grants need to be made more available to companies that make equipment and components used to generate renewable energy.

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