President Barack Obama sits in the driver's seat of a 2011 Ford Explorer as he tours the Ford Motor Company Chicago Assembly Plant August 5, 2010.

President Barack Obama lambasted Republicans on Thursday for opposing his auto company bailouts and unveiled a new loan guarantee for Ford Motor Co to help meet his goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years.

Obama, a Democrat, made his second auto industry-related trip in a week -- this time to his home town of Chicago -- to highlight what his administration sees as one of its top economic successes: turning around grim prospects for the sector and saving valuable manufacturing jobs.

He twinned that with a move to boost exports, timing his visit on a day that the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved a Ford loan guarantee to finance $3.1 billion in exports of cars and trucks to customers in Canada and Mexico.

The bank's loan guarantee will cover more than 200,000 Ford vehicle exports, representing 15 percent of the company's 2009 production.

Last week Obama visited General Motors Co and Chrysler plants in Detroit, where he defended his decision to bail out those two companies in 2009.

There were a lot of folks who were ready to write off the American auto industry, who thought we should just have walked away from you. Some still think that today, Obama said in a rousing speech to a cheering crowd at a Ford assembly plant, where he got behind the wheel of a retooled Ford Explorer.

My message to them is this: Don't bet against the American worker. Don't lose faith in the American people. Don't lose faith in American industry. We are coming back.

Ford avoided the bankruptcies that engulfed GM and Chrysler but supported its rivals in their requests for U.S. government funding that also helped to prevent a collapse of the auto parts supply base.

The president, a Democrat, is eager to emphasize economic success stories ahead of November congressional elections that are expected to produce significant gains for Republicans, who have hammered Obama for failing to reduce near double-digit unemployment levels.

Obama said jobs, at least in the auto sector, are returning. America's automakers have added 55,000 jobs since last June, he said to applause. That's the best job growth in more than 10 years in this industry.


Republicans were not convinced.

As Americans look at the situation, they see the government running banks, insurance companies, car companies, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

We think that's the reason the economy continues to limp along and not break out. I think the president's agenda has been a job-killing agenda.

Obama, speaking at a Democratic fund-raiser, accused his critics of sticking to policies from his predecessor George W. Bush that he said dug the U.S. economy into its hole.

What they're really betting on is amnesia. They're betting that you just forgot about the eight years that they were in charge of Washington, Obama said.

The fight over jobs will continue in the coming months as the election, which could shift power in Congress, nears.

Export-generated employment is one weapon Obama hopes to put in Democrats' campaign arsenals. The U.S. Ex-Im bank said its guarantee on Thursday would help support jobs.

This transaction alone will support thousands of high-paying export-related American jobs by exporting superior goods and services to international buyers, Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of Ex-Im Bank, said in a statement.

Ford plants in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio will manufacture the vehicles to be exported.

The Private Export Funding Corporation will provide the funding for the revolving $250 million loan backed by Ex-Im's guarantee, the Ex-Im Bank said. The loan, fees and interest will be paid off in one year.

At the Ford plant, which Obama said was built to produce the iconic Model T in the 1920s, the president revved up the crowd about expanding exports.

We're tired of just buying from everybody else -- we want to start selling to other people, because we know we can compete, he said.

Ford plans to add 1,200 jobs for a second production shift at its Chicago Assembly Plant, where it expects to start building a new version of the Ford Explorer SUV later in 2010.

Some of the Chicago jobs will be filled by current Ford workers on indefinite layoff and some by new workers at lower wages negotiated with the United Auto Workers union.

The plant was retooled with help from a $400 million Energy Department loan extended to help the company make more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Explorer is a leaner and greener make-over of its once hot-selling SUV that was a cash cow for the automaker a decade ago.

The Obama administration believes the smaller and more fuel-efficient Explorer is prime for export and that Ford has embraced Obama's wish for American business to be more aggressive in capturing overseas market share.

Ford expects to be solidly profitable this year, but it borrowed more than $23 billion in late 2006 to fund its turnaround, leaving it with a far heavier debt load than the post-bankruptcy GM and Chrysler.

(Additional reporting by John Crawley, Alister Bull and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Vicki Allen and Philip Barbara)