Government to buy 17,600 U.S. cars: Obama

President Barack Obama looks out from his car as he leaves a dinner in a rainy night in Istanbul April 6, 2009. REUTERS/Kayhan Ozer/Prime Minister's Press Office/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, saying he was committed to a strong U.S. auto industry, announced on Thursday the government would buy 17,600 new fuel-efficient vehicles from ailing American automakers by June 1.

Obama said the vehicles, part of the U.S. government fleet, would be purchased from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, all of which had an existing contract with the federal government’s General Services Administration.

The president said the GSA would spend about $285 million in funds from the $787 billion dollar Recovery Act approved by Congress earlier this year to buy the 17,600 commercially available fuel-efficient vehicles.

“As a part of our commitment to the American auto industry, I charged my administration with using Recovery Act funds to purchase a new fleet of fuel-efficient government vehicles to increase demand for our American auto companies and stimulate the economy,” Obama said in a statement announcing the decision.

“This is only a first step, but I will continue to ensure that we are working to support the American auto industry during this difficult period of restructuring,” he said.

The president on March 30 directed the administration to speed up planned purchases of vehicles for the U.S. government’s fleet of cars.

The announcement on Thursday includes the purchase of 2,500 hybrid sedans that will be ordered by April 15, the largest one-time purchase of hybrid vehicles for the government fleet in history, the White House said.

Swapping older federal cars for hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles will reduce gasoline consumption by 1.3 million gallons per year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26 million pounds, the White House said.

The GSA also will spend $15 million to buy advanced technology vehicles for the government fleet, including compressed natural gas and hybrid buses as well as electric vehicles.

Editing by Jackie Frank