Ron Bloom, a senior member of President Barack Obama's auto task force, looked Mike Jackson in the eye and said: "Tell me what I don't know."
Jackson, the AutoNation CEO, had huddled in Washington on that March morning in 2009 with the team of specialists who were deciding the fate of the U.S. auto industry.
What Bloom really wanted to find out from the head of the nation's largest dealership group was whether General Motors and Chrysler were worth saving. And that question turned on whether underlying demand was really as low as the sub-10 million sales rate in the first quarter of 2009.
The task force, which Obama had created in February, was charged with helping the auto industry survive its worst crisis since World War II. Only two weeks remained before its March 31 deadline to decide what, if any, additional government help GM and Chrysler would get.
The nagging doubt was that post-recession demand would not be strong enough for GM and Chrysler to survive. What if the new normal is only 10 million or 11 million vehicles a year?