Chrysler defends welfare checks

Chrysler LLC President Jim Press defended a controversial plan to provide low-cost, federal loans to automakers, saying U.S. manufacturers needed the money to help them pursue technological advances and ensure that the United States did not end up exchanging its dependence on foreign oil for a reliance on imported batteries.

"It's not a free bailout," Press said Wednesday. "It's a way for us to accelerate our technological development" and put cleaner vehicles on the market at affordable prices.

"What we're going through is a technological revolution in our automobiles," he said, describing a race in the industry to develop ultra-clean, battery-powered electric cars with longer driving ranges than the failed electric cars of the past.

Automakers around the world are working hard now to solve the key challenge and make more powerful, compact and safe batteries. But if Detroit's ailing automakers fall behind in research efforts in this crucial area, they could end up at a serious disadvantage — and the country, as well. "Are we trading dependence on foreign oil for dependence on factory-produced batteries" made elsewhere? Press asked.

"We need to stimulate that development here — in Michigan," he said in remarks following a speech to the Automotive Press Association. "I think this money will allow us to do it."

Congress authorized, but did not fund, a $25-billion loan package last December to encourage automakers to invest in new, cleaner technologies, as part of an energy bill that also imposed much stricter mileage standards. More at Detroit News

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