His new boss promised help in his first press conference on Friday, just hours after Ford and GM announced huge third quarter losses and, with the possibility of Detroit Big Three bankruptcies being discussed in the weekend papers, president-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff on Sunday urged swift action to rescue the US auto industry.
“Washington needs to look at fast-forwarding the US$25bn that has been provided for retooling the factories for basically a more fuel-efficient auto fleet,” congressman Rahm Emanuel told US TV networks.
Emanuel, in his first televised interviews since being named Obama’s chief of staff, said the president-elect has asked his economic team study a variety of options aimed at boosting the auto industry, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).
But he also urged the existing administration and congress to move quickly to save struggling carmakers, who have asked lawmakers for an extra $25bn in government-backed loan guarantees to help save them from imminent collapse.
That would be on top of the $25bn loan guarantees, recently authorised by the congress as part of a massive economic bailout package, to help US automakers develop more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“As president-elect Obama has said throughout the campaign and as I think as recently as Friday … the auto industry is an essential part of our economy and an essential part of our industrial base,” Emanuel said.
But the news agency said he declined to say whether Obama supported an appeal by Democratic house speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate majority leader Harry Reid to move an even bigger chunk of cash from the $700bn bailout package to the auto sector.
“President-elect Obama has repeated that there’s one president, one administration at a time and so you don’t want to get in front of that,” he said as Obama’s transition team prepared to take over from president Bush on 20 January.
However, he said “there are existing authorities within the government today that the administration should tap to help the auto industry.”
His remarks came after General Motors reported a large Q3 loss, additional liquidity measures and warned of a cash crisis in the first half of next year without help.
Ford also reported heavy financial losses and plans to slash more salaried North American workers.