* Loans, fees and interest to be paid off in one year
* Obama highlights auto industry turnaround
(Updates with Obama quotes)
By Jeff Mason
CHICAGO, Aug 5 President Barack Obama lambasted
Republicans on Thursday for opposing his auto company bailouts
and unveiled a new loan guarantee for Ford Motor Co (F.N) to
help meet his goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years.
Obama, a Democrat, made his second auto industry-related
trip in a week -- this time to his home town of Chicago -- to
highlight what his administration sees as one of its top
economic successes: turning around grim prospects for the
sector and saving valuable manufacturing jobs.
He twinned that with a move to boost exports, timing his
visit on a day that the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved a Ford
loan guarantee to finance $3.1 billion in exports of cars and
trucks to customers in Canada and Mexico.
The bank's loan guarantee will cover more than 200,000 Ford
vehicle exports, representing 15 percent of the company's 2009
Last week Obama visited General Motors Co GM.UL and
Chrysler plants in Detroit, where he defended his decision to
bail out those two companies in 2009.
"There were a lot of folks who were ready to write off the
American auto industry, who thought we should just have walked
away from you. Some still think that today," Obama said in a
rousing speech to a cheering crowd at a Ford assembly plant,
where he got behind the wheel of a retooled Ford Explorer.
"My message to them is this: Don't bet against the
American worker. Don't lose faith in the American people.
Don't lose faith in American industry. We are coming back."
Ford avoided the bankruptcies that engulfed GM and Chrysler
but supported its rivals in their requests for U.S. government
funding that also helped to prevent a collapse of the auto
parts supply base.
The president, a Democrat, is eager to emphasize economic
success stories ahead of November congressional elections that
are expected to produce significant gains for Republicans, who
have hammered Obama for failing to reduce near double-digit
Obama said jobs, at least in the auto sector, are
returning. "America's automakers have added 55,000 jobs since
last June," he said to applause. "That's the best job growth in
more than 10 years in this industry."
JOBS AND EXPORTS
Republicans were not convinced.
"As Americans look at the situation, they see the
government running banks, insurance companies, car companies,"
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
"We think that's the reason the economy continues to limp
along and not break out. I think the president's agenda has
been a job-killing agenda."
Obama, speaking at a Democratic fund-raiser, accused his
critics of sticking to policies from his predecessor George W.
Bush that he said dug the U.S. economy into its hole.
"What they're really betting on is amnesia. They're betting
that you just forgot about the eight years that they were in
charge of Washington," Obama said.
The fight over jobs will continue in the coming months as
the election, which could shift power in Congress, nears.
Export-generated employment is one weapon Obama hopes to
put in Democrats' campaign arsenals. The U.S. Ex-Im bank said
its guarantee on Thursday would help support jobs.
"This transaction alone will support thousands of
high-paying export-related American jobs by exporting superior
goods and services to international buyers," Fred Hochberg,
chairman and president of Ex-Im Bank, said in a statement.
Ford plants in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky and
Ohio will manufacture the vehicles to be exported.
"The Private Export Funding Corporation will provide the
funding for the revolving $250 million loan backed by Ex-Im's
guarantee," the Ex-Im Bank said. "The loan, fees and interest
will be paid off in one year."
At the Ford plant, which Obama said was built to produce
the iconic "Model T" in the 1920s, the president revved up the
crowd about expanding exports.
"We're tired of just buying from everybody else -- we want
to start selling to other people, because we know we can
compete," he said.
Ford plans to add 1,200 jobs for a second production shift
at its Chicago Assembly Plant, where it expects to start
building a new version of the Ford Explorer SUV later in 2010.
Some of the Chicago jobs will be filled by current Ford
workers on indefinite layoff and some by new workers at lower
wages negotiated with the United Auto Workers union.
The plant was retooled with help from a $400 million Energy
Department loan extended to help the company make more
fuel-efficient vehicles. The Explorer is a leaner and greener
make-over of its once hot-selling SUV that was a cash cow for
the automaker a decade ago.
The Obama administration believes the smaller and more
fuel-efficient Explorer is prime for export and that Ford has
embraced Obama's wish for American business to be more
aggressive in capturing overseas market share.
Ford expects to be solidly profitable this year, but it
borrowed more than $23 billion in late 2006 to fund its
turnaround, leaving it with a far heavier debt load than the
post-bankruptcy GM and Chrysler.
(Additional reporting by John Crawley, Alister Bull and Matt
Spetalnick; editing by Vicki Allen and Philip Barbara)