DETROIT — Former Obama Admin. auto task force chief Steve Rattner calls General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre a “hero” and says industry observers should “wake up every day and thank God” he is leading the auto maker.

Rattner deflects criticism of the former AT&T chairman at a Federal Reserve conference here.

Despite frequent management shuffles at GM in recent weeks, Rattner says he sees no evidence Whitacre's moves are “anything but thoughtful.”

The former counselor to the U.S. Treasury Dept. Secretary defends the milestone moves by the Bush and Obama administrations to revive the foundering predecessors of GM and Chrysler Group LLC.

“These companies would have run out of money; they would have closed their doors and liquidated,” Rattner says, claiming more than 1 million jobs would have been immediately lost and the U.S. manufacturing base gutted.

Serious contemplation “by a considerable number of smart and thoughtful people” was given to assisting only GM and allowing Chrysler to fold, because the penestar company had been “hollowed out” by former parent DaimlerChrysler AG, Rattner reveals.

However, the government's confidence was boosted by the track record of Fiat Automobiles SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne and Fiat's portfolio of small cars.

Rattner also tells of much trepidation about attracting customers to the bankrupt auto makers. “We budgeted about a 50% falloff,” he says.