Ford said it was seeking $9bn in credit as insurance against any potential difficulties.

Gettelfinger said the union would suspend a car maker payment programme to former workers and defer billions of dollars in payments from the companies to cover retiree healthcare costs.

New plans

The companies are laying out their plans before congress after their first plea for government aid was denied.

General Motors has warned it could
go out of buisness [EPA]
Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds said it seemed unlikely that a bailout will be agreed before Barack Obama takes office as president in January as there is not enough support for it in the senate.

Obama said on Wednesday the car makers had put forward a "more serious" restructuring proposal to congress but withheld judgement on the plans until hearings are held.

Obama said any help should be "based on realistic assessments of what the auto market is going to be and a realistic plan for how we're going to make these companies viable over the long term".

The companies have blamed the global financial crisis, falling demand for large vehicles, and a worldwide economic slump for their woes.

'Double standard'

But the union has also been criticised for demanding large contract buy-out packages for workers.

On Tuesday GM said it would cut 31,500 more jobs by 2012.
 
Gettelfinger said the union's current contract will allow the US car makers to operate on "a totally competitive, level playing field" and said the union should not be blamed for the current crisis.

He also expressed frustration with the "double standard" in Washington following a $700bn bailout of Wall Street firms.

He "Are we going to blame the auto workers, who are by the way 10 per cent of the cost of automobile ... or are we going to take a look at what's happened to our economy, to the housing crunch, to the Wall Street bailout and the failures on Wall Street?"

The car industry is just one of many that are being hit hard by the economic downturn and global financial crisis.

The US private sector lost 250,000 jobs in November, the largest decline in six years, according to a report by ADP National Employment Report, a private group, said on Tuesday.