Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. "stood on the brink of liquidation" when the 2009 bailouts were authorized, Obama said at a Chrysler plant in Toledo.
Doing nothing, as advocated by many in Washington, "would have triggered a cascade of damage across the country," Obama said at a plant that makes Jeep Wranglers.
"I didn't run for president to get into the auto business," he said. "I ran for president because too many Americans felt their dreams slipping away from them.
"I put my bet on you," Obama said, something he said he'd do "every day of the week."
All three automakers are turning a profit -- something not done since 2004 -- and all are gaining market share, something that hasn't happened since 1995, Obama said. Workers are being rehired and shifts are being added, he said.
To rousing applause, whoops and hollers, Obama told the crowd the federal government "has been completely repaid for investments made on my watch. … Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes every taxpayer. And you repaid it six years ahead of schedule."
He also announced U.S. officials reached agreement to sell the government's remaining interest in Chrysler "so you'll be 100 percent in private hands."
Italian automaker Fiat SpA agreed to buy the U.S. Treasury's remaining 6 percent stake in Chrysler, ending U.S. involvement in the automaker, officials said. The government lent $80 billion to Chrysler, GM, auto lenders and suppliers in 2009. The Obama administration said Wednesday taxpayers would probably get back all but $14 billion of the money.
"This industry is back on its feet, repaying its debt, and is gaining ground," Obama said.
Expressing pride in Chrysler's workers, Obama said they "showed this was a good investment -- betting on American workers."
He also repeated his views about the federal government working its way out of debt through smarter spending and cutting while planning for the future through investments in education, innovation and infrastructure.
"Don't want to pretend like everything is solved; we've got a long way to go," Obama said, even though more than 2 million jobs have been created during the last 15 months.
The country "still faces tough times," Obama said. "It's taking a while for it to mend."
Fiat will pay $500 million to the Treasury Department for its 98,461 shares of Chrysler and another $75 million for the right to purchase the 45.7 percent of Chrysler owned by the United Auto Workers union's healthcare trust fund, Treasury Department officials said in a statement Thursday.
The Treasury will give 20 percent of the $75 million purchase right, or $15 million, to Canada and keep the remaining 80 percent, the department said.
In all, the Treasury will get $560 million in the deal, which is expected to close by August following antitrust reviews.
Chrysler last week repaid $7.5 billion it owed to the United States and Canada.