"In the midst of a deep recession and financial crisis, the collapse of the auto industry would have caused enormous damage to our economy," Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of auto workers.
"So we intervened for one simple and compelling reason: your survival and the success of our economy depended on it."
The president added that his "belief was that if GM retooled and reinvented itself for the 21st century, it would be good for American workers, good for American manufacturing, and good for America's economy. I'm pleased to report that's exactly what's begun to happen at this plant and at others. And I'll tell you what: I will double down on the American people and all of you any day of the week."
The federal government's rescue of the auto industry came at a significant cost to taxpayers. The Treasury Department poured $19.4 billion into GM and $4 billion into Chrysler before their bankruptcy filings and is unlikely, according to experts, to get much, if any, of that money back.
The department then agreed to give another $30 billion to GM and $8 billion to Chrysler to fund their operations during and immediately after the bankruptcy process, loans that it hopes will be mostly be repaid through the sale of stock in both firms at some point in the future.
By paying for the rescue with funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program originally set up to fix the nation's banking system last fall, the White House was able to reshape the auto industry without any action by Congress.
"As long as you've still got an ounce of fight left in you, I'll have a ton of fight left in me," Obama concluded. "I've said it before, I'm skinny but I'm tough."
The president is also expected to discuss economic issues during an appearance Tuesday before the AFL-CIO in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- CNNMoney.com's Chris Isidore contributed to this report.