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Auto Task Force Road Trip Shows Long Road Ahead

Obama Auto Team
CNBC.com
Obama Auto Team

When President Obama's Auto Task Force rolls into Detroit Monday it will spark another round of stories and speculation about when the Treasury Department will decide the fate of GM, and Chrysler.

Don't hold your breath.

From all indications and talking with those who have met with the Task Force, these guys are a ways from making their recommendations to the White House. And to be honest, that's a good thing.

President Obama's Auto Team has been working long hours the last two weeks trying to figure out how to re-build an industry broken by a painful recession and problems that have festered for decades. Expecting answers after a couple weeks is unrealistic. Unfortunately for them, us, and the auto industry they don't have the luxury of taking their time. GM, Chrysler, and numerous suppliers are either on life support or waiting to check in to the E.R.

That pressure to find a remedy quickly is a double-edged sword.

On one hand the urgency of the moment gives the Auto Team the leverage to tell everyone involved, "Listen up! We're gonna have to make some hard choices, and you may not like all of them.” On the other hand, we don't want the Auto Team to make quick judgments that may provide near term solutions, but really not change things in the long run.

That's why this road trip is important. Both GM and Chrysler say they have game plans that will not only make them viable, but profitable in the future. Take GM. It is counting on the Chevy Volt and its electric car technology to be "game changers". So on Monday, the task force will see the latest on the Volt and take a prototype of the car out for a test drive. They will see for themselves if GM engineers truly have a car that will revolutionize the auto industry.

Ultimately, that's what President Obama wants from his Task Force. This is a rare opportunity to shape the future of an industry America created and America needs. If this group were charged with simply deciding if GM and Chrysler live or die, then bankruptcy court would have been a better place for both. And yes, I know many of you still think bankruptcy court is where these guys belong.

So the long road to figuring out how to fix the American auto industry rolls into the city that gave birth to it more than a hundred years ago. It took decades for this industry to finally break down. It will take longer than two weeks for the mechanics in Washington to come up with a way to repair it.

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