Leaders of a battered American auto industry will meet today with President Carter, Cabinet officers and top White House aides to seek a common strategy for recovery.
Administration officials hope to establish an industry-labor-government task force to review Detroit's plight and propose remedies within two months, according to government sources.
But the Carter administration won't offer relief for the industry's top problem: the tide of imports that has captured more than one-quarter of the American market, administration officials said.
When the industry met this month with Sen. Howard H. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) its shopping list was long.
American Motors Corp. asked for a four-year freeze on government regulation and better tariff protection against imported light trucks.
Chrysler Corp. asked for tax credits to reward motorist who buy fuel-efficient cars and for small Business Administration aid for dealers.
Ford Motor Co. asked for import quotas on certain foreign cars.
Although the administration is negotiating with Japan to obtain an easing of duties on the trade in auto parts between the new countries, there won't be support for quotas or higher tariffs across the board, administration officials said.
"The range of issues is so immense, we need to identify the priorities and pin down what is most important to them," said one administration official.
"We are prepared to recognize this as a problem industry that needs help," said another official. But having just approved $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for Chrysler Corp., the administration isn't ready to dig down for more financial assistance, aides said.
What the meeting can accomplish are closer bonds among leaders of the United Auto Workers and the government officials most directly involved with the automobile, aides said.
Leading the government effort will be Transportation Secretary Neil E. Goldschmidt, who has made a deliberate effort to dispel an atmosphere of antagonism between the industry and its federal regulators, administration aides said.
But these aides said the administration isn't preparing to compromise on regulatory goals involving consumer protection, safety, pollution controls and fuel-efficiency standards.
A key issue that isn't expected to be settled soon, is whether Congress and the administration should set a new mile-per-gallon fuel standard for the industry after 1985.
The current standard compels manufacturers to reach an average of 27.5 mpg for their 1985 model year fleets. The Senate Energy Committee is considering new legislation raising the standard to 40 mpg by 1995. The industry opposes that, although most experts believe the goal could be reached, and the Carter administration is at odds on the issue.
The top administration officials are divided in their view of the industry. Aides and Goldschmidt and others are saying that with 290,000 auto workers unemployed, the government has a responsibility to do something, without indulging in a fight over whether the industry or its regulators were more to blame.
Other top administration officials say the industry cannot escape blame for its own plight and should bear the consequences without new government bailouts or new trade restrictions that could cause serious problems for the rest of American industry.
The automakers have estimated they will spend from $60 billion to $80 billion between now and 1985 essentially to redesign the entire domestic auto fleet.
Some top administration officials are concerned that unless it plans carefully, the industry could reach 1985 with its capital exhausted, still trailing foreign automakers in technology.