Humbled U.S. automakers pleaded with Congress Thursday for an expanded $34 billion rescue package, but heard fresh skepticism in a bumpy encore appearance.
"We made mistakes, which we're learning from," General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner told the Senate Banking Committee.
United Auto Worker union President Ron Gettelfinger warned bluntly that in the absence of action by Congress: "I believe we could lose General Motors by the end of this month." He said the situation was dire and that time was of the essence.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally also acknowledged big mistakes, saying his company's mantra once was "You build it, they will come."
"We produced more vehicles than our customers wanted, then slashed prices," he said. But as a result of these past mistakes, "we are really focused," he said.
The Big Three executives made the trip from Detroit in new-model hybrid autos made by their respective companies, two weeks after a botched appeal for $25 billion in which they were chided for flying on private jets to beg for money.
Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli promised that his company, recipient of a previous government-subsidized rescue loan in the 1970s that it repaid, would repay taxpayers by 2012 and would devote itself to manufacturing "fuel-efficient cars and trucks that people want to buy."
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the panel, complained that the pricetag on the package had jumped since the trio last appeared just two weeks ago. He pressed the automakers to explain why, and to justify how such aid would not simply "prop up a failed business model for a few months ... and how are you going to pay it back to the taxpayers?"
Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., supports helping the industry, but said that detailed plans submitted earlier this week on how the companies would use low-cost federal loans to reorganize still left a lot of questions unanswered.
But Dodd also said that doing nothing "plays...