President Back Obama said on Tuesday Chrysler auto company paying back a final $5.1 billion in bailout funds given by the U.S. government was a significant milestone and a sign that the U.S. auto industry is recovering.

Obama, in London for a state visit to Britain, was quick to hail the news that could be important in garnering support for his 2012 re-election campaign in the midwestern United States where the auto industry has struggled.

Chrysler's repayment of its outstanding loans to the U.S. Treasury and American taxpayers marks a significant milestone for the turnaround of Chrysler and the countless communities and families who rely on the American auto industry, he said.

Obama has drawn fire from some conservatives for bailing out portions of the U.S. auto industry two years ago. He said Chrysler's repayment was six years ahead of schedule.

Supporting the American auto industry required making some tough decisions, but I was not willing to walk away from the workers at Chrysler and the communities that rely on this iconic American company, he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Louise Ireland)