Obama official encouraged by auto recovery

Associated Press
Ford Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas, center, shows off the automaker's electric car battery to Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Ron Bloom, President Obama's Senior Counselor for Manufacturing Policy at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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Ford Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas, center, shows off the automaker's electric car battery to Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Ron Bloom, President Obama's Senior Counselor for Manufacturing Policy at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

An Obama administration official who oversaw the restructuring of the auto industry said Tuesday he was encouraged that U.S. automakers are returning to profitability despite tough economic conditions.

Touring the Detroit auto show, Treasury Department official Ron Bloom said U.S. auto companies are "demonstrating that they can make cars and make them in America." He walked through the exhibits of shiny new cars built by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., inspecting electric vehicles, fuel-efficient compacts and trucks.

"I think you're seeing a recovery," Bloom said. "We obviously hope that demand continues to improve and I think most people are looking at a decent increase in demand for '11 and I think with that you're going to see even more success."

GM and Chrysler were bailed out by the Bush and Obama administrations, which pumped billions of dollars into the two auto companies to keep them afloat during the economic downturn. GM has posted three straight profitable quarters and repaid about half of the government's $50 billion investment. Chrysler has yet to post a net profit but is hoping to conduct a stock sale later in the year to pay back nearly $6 billion to taxpayers.

Bloom declined to speculate on how soon the government would sell its remaining ownership stakes in the two companies, saying it would be "as soon as practicable."

Chrysler executives said Monday they will try to refinance their government loans this year as they prepares for an initial public stock offering. Bloom would not address a refinance plan, but he said, "If Chrysler wants to pay us back, we will keep the Treasury open late to get their check."

Standing near an exhibit showcasing Ford's plans for an electric car, Bloom said the company's announcement that it would hire 7,000 workers during the next two years provided evidence that the domestic auto industry was recovering.

"All of them are demonstrating that they can make cars and make them in America," he said.

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