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US autos task force meets UAW, GM, Chrysler in Detroit

MEMBERS of the Obama administration's autos task force met for the first time with the national leadership of the United Auto Workers yesterday as part of a visit to the Detroit area where they again met with executives of General Motors Corp and Chrysler.

Administration and other sources said that lead task force advisers Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom held a two-hour meeting with UAW president Ron Gettelfinger.

Details of the meeting were not disclosed, but substantial concessions by the labor group are considered crucial for saving GM and Chrysler and for insuring continued federal assistance for the companies.

"The auto team continues to consult with all constituencies around the clock on this issue, both recognizing the urgency and being deliberate in this process," an administration official familiar with the task force visit said.

GM and Chrysler are seeking wage and healthcare concessions from the labor group. On Monday, hourly workers at Ford Motor Co voted to accept concessions similar to what is being sought at GM and Chrysler.

GM and Chrysler received a US$17.4 billion government bailout in December and have asked for nearly US$22 billion more. The government has until March 31 to determine if the automakers can become commercially viable, and if they should get additional public funds.

Unlike GM and Chrysler, Ford has not sought a government bailout but is trying to restructure its shaky finances as the industry is battered by the US economic recession.

The UAW did not comment on the meeting between the task force members and Gettelfinger.

Bloom and Rattner met with GM and Chrysler in Washington in recent weeks, but they traveled to Detroit to meet the UAW leadership. Labor was a crucial constituent for President Barack Obama in his White House campaign.

The restructuring of GM, Chrysler and related businesses is an important part of the administration's response to massive job losses.

GM and Chrysler demonstrated plans for hybrid and other advanced technology vehicles both trumpeted in their turnaround plans submitted to the Treasury Department in February. Those plans also included new requests for government aid.

At a GM technical center in Warren, Michigan, Rattner, a former Wall Street financier, and Bloom, a restructuring expert with strong labor ties, had an opportunity to drive a test version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car. GM plans to produce that car in 2010.

A person familiar with the visits, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting, said Bloom and Rattner met with Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, GM Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson and GM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young at the technical center.

"We believe today's visit provided a constructive glimpse of GM people, their passion for their work, and the technology solutions that are behind the pages of our viability plan," GM said in a statement.

Rattner and Bloom, who work for the Treasury Department, toured Chrysler's plant in Warren, where Dodge pickup trucks are built, and met with Chief Executive Bob Nardelli, Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda, Vice Chairman Jim Press, and Chief Financial Officer Ron Kolka, Chrysler said.

Chrysler reviewed current and future product plans with the task force, including electric and hybrid vehicles, the automaker said in its statement.

Last week, GM's auditors raised doubt about the company's ability to survive outside bankruptcy if it cannot stem losses and stop burning cash.

Chrysler, about 80 percent controlled by Cerberus Capital Management, has sought additional help to maintain operations, a prerequisite to completing an alliance with Italy's Fiat SpA.

GM posted a US$30.9 billion net loss in 2008, while much smaller Chrysler reported a net loss of US$8 billion.


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