WisBusiness: Doyle says Obama is committed to domestic auto industry

By Greg Bump


Addressing recent goverment action regarding struggling U.S. automakers, Gov. Jim Doyle today said President Obama has laid out “some pretty tough markers” for the auto industry, but “they are markers that need to be there.”

”I really appreciate the fact that we have a president that isn’t trying to sugarcoat this,” Doyle said.

Obama today announced that the restructuring plans offered by General Motors and Chrysler do not go far enough to warrant more federal investment.

“My administration will offer GM and Chrysler a limited period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional tax dollars; a period during which they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success,” Obama said today. “I am confident that if we are each willing to do our part, then this restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short-term, will mark
not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry.”

Obama said his administration would work with GM on a “better business plan,” examining brand consolidation and the company’s debt structure, among other issues. He said Chrysler “needs a partner to remain viable” and said international car company Fiat would make a good match.

Doyle said he didn’t catch Obama’s address, but got a call from the White House about an hour before the speech. He said he has spoken with Obama personally about the issue, and knows the president is committed to having a healthy domestic auto manufacturing industry in the long-term.

With Doyle and other state leaders trying to get General Motors to re-open the idle Janesville assembly plant, the guv said “it’s very unlikely” that car companies will be making “any big new investment in the near future.”

But Doyle said he has been assured by GM officials that their view of Janesville was different from departing CEO Richard Wagoner, who earlier signaled a Janesville reopening was off the table.

“We don’t expect in 2009 that they’re going to be re-opening. (But) we do hope that as the American automobile industry and GM in particular gets itself stabilized and moving forward again with a product that people are out buying … that Janesville is part of that,” he said.

Doyle said he has also had conversations with Chrysler officials about their engine plant in Kenosha, and as with GM “they are in no position to tell any state or anyone what their plans are. They’re just trying to get stabilized.”

Doyle said his goal is for the American auto industry to make a comeback, and to have Wisconsin be a part of that rejuvenated industry.

“It has to (come back),” Doyle said. “We simply can’t be a country that doesn’t make automobiles.”