Ed Whitacre, the tall Texan in charge of General Motors, told reporters at the Detroit show last night that the company would repay the balance of its US$6.7bn government loan by the end of June.

"I think (the government bailout) was well placed, and I think they'll make a lot of money," chairman and CEO Whitacre said.

"GM's on its way back. We'll be back. The government's made a good investment. We appreciate their support. We're glad they're here."

This was his first visit to the show and he was rapidly engulfed in a scrum of reporters after a Buick and GMC press conference, complaining at one point that he couldn't breathe.

But he found enough breath to tell the media pack he wanted GM to "design, build and sell the world's best vehicles."

Last week, Whitacre said he hoped GM would be profitable this year, a year ahead of previous predictions.