Former GM exec: Industry turnaround started before bailouts

"We would have made it because we were all in the process of cleaning up the mess in the past (with) the legacy cost," he continued. "All of the great cars that are coming out now ... were all in the planning and execution phrase."

Lutz's recollection runs counter to the narrative being pushed by Democrats that President Obama saved the American auto industry by tying the bailouts to reforms, unlike the assistance that was given to Wall Street banks earlier in 2008. The Obama administration has moved to turn the bailouts, which the president was once harshly criticized for, into a political winner in Midwest swing states that will be crucial to his reelection.

But unlike Republicans, who jostled in a debate this week over who was more against the auto bailouts at the time, Lutz did not argue that the assistance to the car companies was unnecessary.  

"People forget there was no money for debt or in possession financing back then," he said. "We obviously didn't want to be wards of the government, so everybody clearly ... tried every avenue that was possible to avoid a government intervention. But there was no money.

"The banks didn't have any money," he continued. "The only entity in the United States in '09  that had any money was the federal government. They didn't have either, but at least they could print it."