The news that 533,000 Americans lost their jobs last month in the continuing fallout from the global financial crisis is likely to overcome opposition to a taxpayer bailout of the American car industry. Without it, General Motors or Chrysler are in danger of going bankrupt, with disastrous knock-on effects on the car-parts industry and the prospect of more than 2 million job losses in the US next year. In these circumstances, it seems unthinkable that the industry would be allowed to fail for the want of tens of billions of dollars, when hundreds of billions have been poured into financial institutions to prop them up. But 'big auto' has become a tarnished symbol of American capitalism, accused of hubris amid troubles of its own making. How tarnished is evident from the hard bargain being driven by the White House and the industry's critics in Congress. Instead of more than US$30 billion the companies asked for, they are to get a temporary lifeline of about US$15 billion drawn from taxpayer funds previously set aside for retooling to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. That is an irony savoured by lawmakers who recall that during better times the industry threw its political weight around to block stricter fuel-efficiency and anti-pollution standards. The aim is to give GM and Chrysler breathing space until the industry becomes the problem of president-elect Barack Obama, who is likely to include it in a sweeping economic recovery plan. That is certain to include oversight to ensure that it mends its ways and makes cars Americans want. Spurred on by the recent high price of oil, Americans are fighting their addiction to it, and turning to more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly foreign alternatives. 'Big auto' has been like a dealer that has become hooked, making gas guzzlers more and more people no longer want amid economic uncertainty and global warming. There is an important place for an American car industry that rediscovers a gift for innovation and leadership. For the sake of the country, the world's biggest per-capita polluter, and the global environment, it is to be hoped it has learned some painful lessons.