And so today I'm announcing that my administration will offer GM and Chrysler a limited additional period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional taxpayer dollars. During this period they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success.
So, do we know what is really needed to save the U.S. auto industry? Clearly, Obama is committed to companies standing on their own, "not as wards of the State." I am all for forcing companies to make difficult decisions. But, there is a bit of a double standard here that we've noted here before (Power of the Sequel: TARP II). My larger concern is not the ousting of Wagoner, perhaps that is overdue and new leadership may help push change forward. But, wouldn't the same be true over at some of the banks? Edward Liddy assumed the helm over at troubled AIG at the request of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, but there has not been much movement in management over at the banks that are in the worst trouble. The same accountability to which Wagoner is held should mandate changes in management at some (though clearly not all) of the banks that took TARP monies.
Thankfully, President Obama noted that some of the trouble in the auto industry is the economy as a whole. People just aren't buying cars right now. Even if the auto industry was in better shape, it would be hurting due to the poor economy overall. Auto sales for the first two weeks of March 2009 were down a whopping 40%! As Obama noted, he cannot promise that there is not "more difficulty to come." GM seems most likely headed toward bankruptcy unless something changes (not sure what that would be). Whether the government will pitch in for Chrysler seems to depend on whether a "marriage" can be made with Fiat. The government is certainly looking for dramatic changes from the auto sector. Modest reform will not be enough. While how that is accomplished is unknown, it is hard to disagree that substantial change is in order.