Obama prepares to reshape auto industry

February 16, 2009 10:54:59 PM PST
As President Barack Obama prepares to sign the largest economic stimulus plan in the nation's history, he is also working on a plan to reshape the U.S. auto industry.

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The administration's automobile task force will be headed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers.

General Motors and Chrysler are due to submit their plans Tuesday. Monday on Air Force One, the president's press secretary told reporters the administration is anxious to see what the auto makers are offering.

"We have to ensure that the cars of tomorrow are built here by Americans for Americans," Robert Gibbs said.

Before she left on this week's trip to Italy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to the automakers saying their plans must ensure long term viability of the companies, protect quality American jobs, protect taxpayers' money and achieve or exceed both fuel efficiency requirements and emission standards adopted by California and other states.

Chrysler is taking about partnering with Italian car maker Fiat.

"I'd like to see the product they have; of course the European small cars, some of the designs they have are pretty exciting," Steve Schaper said. Schaper is general manager of Bay bridge Chrysler in Oakland.

Schaper is far less excited about a proposed 1 cent increase in the state sales tax.

"It takes a car that normally retails between $25,000 and $30,000 makes that car cost immediately $250 to $300 more; it impacts all of the car business at a time when I think there could be other revenue sources we could look at," Schaper said.

As for Pelosi's list of priorities, Schaper says the auto makers were justifiably chastised for flying their private jets to Washington.

But Pelosi is off in Italy, flying in a taxpayer funded Air Force jet.

Pelosi's press office says the speaker is in Italy to visit U.S. troops and meet with Italian leaders.

Italy has been the first of the European nations to agree to President's Obama's request for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

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