Automakers pinning hopes on Obama

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Detroit automakers and their allies in Congress said Wednesday they will greet President-elect Barack Obama with the same plea they have been making for months - we need help from Washington, and fast.

Obama made it clear during his campaign that he understood the automakers' problems and would work to preserve the industry, said U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

''I'm very optimistic that we're going to have a fighter in the White House for manufacturers,'' Levin said.

Obama has said he would meet with industry leaders and the United Auto Workers immediately to talk about helping automakers, but a meeting has not been scheduled.

GM must get government aid because ''time is very short,'' said Roger Altman, the former Treasury official advising the company in its merger talks with Chrysler LLC. ''The consequences of a collapse by GM or all three could be very severe.''

The industry's agenda will be topped by intensified calls for an immediate disbursement of $25 billion in low-interest loans signed into law by President Bush Sept. 30.

Although the money is supposed to be for the development of fuel-efficient vehicles, automakers argue it should be freed up to meet current capital needs.

Sympathetic lawmakers also have been calling for auto lenders, if not the manufacturers themselves, to get some of the $700 billion bailout fund set aside for financial institutions.

GM sought about $10 billion from the government last month, with CEO Rick Wagoner lobbying Obama in person.

Companies dependent on the automakers are also at risk, said Ann Wilson, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, which represents parts suppliers such as Johnson Controls Inc. and Lear Corp.

Automakers and lawmakers are seeking aid amid decade-low auto sales in the U.S. this year and tight credit markets that caused $28.6 billion in first-half losses in 2008 at GM, Ford and Chrysler.