2009 isn't quite over yet, but we're pretty sure most automakers would rather forget that it ever happened. And while General Motors and Chrysler suffered the pain and humiliation of bankruptcy and workers lost thousands of jobs and many plants and dealerships closed, the good news is that the General and the Pentastar are now more fiscally healthy than they've been in ages. The bad news is that it cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $82 billion to save what has been called hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The Detroit News is reporting that after wading through the wreckage of the auto bailout, the Obama Administration only expects to get back an estimated $52 billion of its original investment. That's horrible news, right? Not so, says Gene Sperling, the senior counsel to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. He said the $30 billion estimate is better than the $44 billion the government thought it would lose a few months ago. And with the perceived stabilization of the auto industry, Sperling feels the numbers could improve.

The DetNews reports that President Obama stressed during a speech on the economy that while the bailout of the auto industry wasn't politically popular, it was absolutely necessary to save "hundreds of thousands of jobs." The president then added "these were not decisions that were popular or satisfying; these were decisions that were necessary."

There are signs that at least GM will start paying the government back $6.7 billion as early as the end of the year. Chairman and interim CEO Ed Whitacre has reportedly intimated that the company could pay the money back in one lump sum. And once the auto industry is in a little better shape, the government could recoup much more cash when the General goes public. For the moment, though, Uncle Sam (e.g. the U.S. taxpayers) still owns 61 percent of the new GM.

[Source: The Detroit News | Image: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty]