WASHINGTON After getting behind the wheel of shiny new American cars at a Washington auto show, President Barack Obama took a veiled swipe at his most likely White House opponent Mitt Romney for having opposed the 2009 auto bailout.
"The U.S. auto industry is back," Obama told reporters who watched the Democrat take the driver's seat in a number of vehicles, including fuel efficient and electric models, muscle cars, SUVs and trucks made by General Motors (GM.N) and Chrysler.
"It's good to remember the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die. Because of folks coming together we are now in a place where we can compete with any car company in the world," he said.
GM regained its title as the world's top-selling automaker in 2011, less than three years after the bailout that many Republicans, including Romney, decried as wasteful.
It included $50 billion to GM and more than $12 billion to Chrysler in taxpayer-funded bailout and bankruptcy financing, including loans and working capital. U.S. taxpayers still own about a third of GM's equity.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who grew up in the car hub Detroit, has said GM and Chrysler would have recovered without the injection of government funds.
The New York Times opinion piece he wrote in 2008 titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" has haunted him on the campaign trail and Obama, who considers the auto revival one of his main accomplishments, has alluded to it in the past.
GM was the world's largest automaker until 2008 when Toyota took its place. Obama is pushing exports as a way to help the struggling U.S. economy recover ahead of the November 6 election and said on Tuesday he was "very proud" of the sector's resurgence.
"The fact that GM is back, number one, I think shows the kind of turnaround that's possible when it comes to American manufacturing," Obama said.
(Reporting By Laura MacInnis and John Crawley; Editing by Eric Beech)