President Barack Obama in a visit Thursday to Ford Motor Co.’s Chicago assembly plant will stress the importance of the automotive industry in helping to boost U.S. exports.

Exports, says Deputy National Security Advisory for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman, are “critical” to the U.S. economy. “We’ve seen exports rebound.”

They’re “up 57% over year-ago, and (exports) to emerging markets are particularly strong,” Froman says today in a conference call with reporters. “The auto sector and related industries are an important part of the story.”

Ford has said its new ’11 Explorer, which will be built at the Chicago plant, will be exported to 90 countries.

The auto maker predicts the ’11 Explorer will be the most-exported model from North America, with the top markets, in addition to Canada and Mexico, to include the Middle East, Russia and Japan, even though there will not be a right-hand-drive model.

Froman says the new Explorer, and other automotive exports, will help in achieving Obama’s goal to double U.S. exports over the next five years.

Obama also will point out the number of automotive jobs his administration saved by loaning billions to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group.

“In the face of liquidation, (Obama) made the difficult decision to stand behind the industry,” says Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Brian Deese, noting that in the past year the automotive sector has added 55,000 jobs.

“It’s the first time the auto industry has added jobs since 1999,” he says.

In addition, the president will tout the Chicago plant as an example of how Ford’s green partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy helped the auto maker fund the $400 million investment needed to retool the facility for Explorer production.

The addition of the Explorer at the plant, which also builds the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS fullsize sedans, will result in the hiring of 1,200 additional workers.

“The administration has sought and continues to try to provide incentives to this industry to help move it in the direction of (building) more advanced vehicles and lessen our dependence on oil,” Deese says.

The government also is encouraging investments in the U.S., he says, noting the “jobs and innovation that come from that benefit the U.S. economy.”