Detroit auto makers did not find the road to ruin on their own, rather a succession of cowardly presidential administrations allowed them to run off course, says California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Washington “screwed things up in the first place” and must “share the blame” for the crisis that has General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co. in various stages of strife, says Schwarzenegger, the marquee attraction at this year's World Congress.

Such culpability extends from past administrations to President Barack Obama, he says, adding Detroit would bounce back with the establishment of a national energy policy and a commitment by auto makers to exploit the technologies the policy would inspire.

The charismatic former action-movie star and professional bodybuilder is a marked man, having been accused of telling Detroit in 2007 to drop dead because of its alleged intransigence to promote alternative-powertrain technology.

Schwarzenegger explains he did not express ill wishes for Detroit OEMs but encouraged them to “get off (their) butts” and join the fight against the effects of large-scale fossil-fuel consumption.

“We ought to be leaders in cleaning up our act and fighting global warming,” he says, adding the U.S. track record for reducing vehicle emissions is “embarrassing.” In recent years, the U.K. has reduced its carbon-dioxide emissions 25% to match its 1990 output. The U.S., Schwarzenegger says, has managed only a 3% improvement.

He says a restructured fuel tax would encourage consumers to consider diesel or ethanol vehicles. In the absence of such incentives, Schwarzenegger goes easy on Detroit OEMs, longtime proponents of fuel-thirsty V-8s. “It's easy to stick with the status quo,” he says.

On the heels of a recent Environmental Protection Agency ruling that rekindles the debate about state-determined vehicle-emissions mandates, Schwarzenegger says he favors a national standard.

This despite California's push for its own standard that would force OEMs to exceed current national fuel-economy mandates.

Exuding charm, “The Terminator” slowly wins over a standing-room-only crowd that had grown increasingly impatient as it awaited his arrival.

Schwarzenegger declares a love for Detroit-produced vehicles and elicits enthusiastic applause when he declares: “The Hummer is a great vehicle.”

The discussion about Detroit's fortunes come as Chrysler and GM find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Ford is struggling to avoid dipping into emergency federal aid.

He acknowledges the groundswell of opposition to such aid, but calls it “a huge amount of nonsense,” saying the Detroit auto makers “should get help.”

And when Detroit turns around, as he expects, Schwarzenegger says he will offer his services as a celebrity endorser — free of charge. He also delivers his trademark line: “I'll be back.”