Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. Before beginning her journalism career, she spent time working as a legal assistant at various firms in the Ann Arbor area.

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Auto safety
2:36 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

Teens should not be driving old, small cars, says safety group

IIHS says parents should "buy as much safety as you can afford" when shopping for a used car for a teen driver.
Credit IIHS / Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

A new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds that a disproportionate number of teenagers who died in car accidents were driving older, smaller cars.

Small, older model cars tend to be lightweight and lack electronic stability control and side air bags. 

Yet these are the cars parents typically buy for their teens, who are the least experienced drivers on the road. 

Russ Rader of IIHS says cost shouldn't be the only factor when choosing a car for a young driver.

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Business
5:19 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

DTE, Consumers should spend excess surcharges on solar, say solar proponents

Costs for solar panels are dropping rapidly, according to solar energy proponents
Credit Photo by Haris Alibasic / City of Grand Rapids

Michigan's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, have about $26 million in renewable energy surcharges in the kitty, after both companies overestimated how much their renewable energy projects would cost.

Now, a solar work group convened by the Michigan Public Service Commission recommends, rather than returning it to taxpayers, the companies should invest the money in new solar projects.

Only about 1/4 of 1% of Michigan's energy comes from solar.

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Business
4:50 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally appointed to Google Board of Directors

From left, Mark Fields, Alan Mulally, and Bill Ford
Credit Ford Motor Company

Alan Mulally has at least one part-time job now, after leaving Ford Motor Company in late June.

Mulally was the Dearborn automaker's CEO from September, 2006 until June 30, 2014.

Mulally was appointed to serve on Google's Board of Directors on July 9. 

The announcement was made on July 15.

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Climate Change and Farming
4:16 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Farming moving northward due to climate change

Farming is moving northward in Michigan due to climate change
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Michigan and other northern states planted a record amount of corn, wheat, and soybeans this year, and the primary reason is climate change.

"We are clearly seeing more growing degree days and a longer growing season in the state of Michigan," says Jim Byrum, President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, "which means some of those crops can be produced further north."

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Health
6:28 pm
Sun July 13, 2014

Study suggests if you want better grades in college, spend time at the gym

Cardio machines
Credit psurecreation

Students who purchased a gym membership at Michigan State University got better grades and were less likely to drop out, according to a study by MSU Professor of Kinesiology James Pivarnik.

Pivarnik says there are studies that show K-12 students do better in school if they get exercise, but this is one of the first studies suggesting there could be an academic benefit for college students who work out.

And there's ample evidence that exercise is good for people's mental and physical health. 

"The hard part is, well, how do we get people to do it?" asks Pivarnik.  "And if part of it is, having to pay this fee, then, okay."

Pivarnik says he has to do other studies to rule out what else could account for the better grades. 

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Auto
3:07 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

No, car sales are not going to just keep growing and growing forever

This has been a very good year for car sales.
Credit GM

Here's the main case to be made for annual car sales in the U.S. exceeding 18 million some day: 

Unlike other mature car markets (Europe), the U.S. population is still growing.  So....the more people there are, the more cars they will buy.  

The argument acknowledges that many young people are postponing buying cars, but says that's just because it's hard to get a job right now.  As soon as the economy improves, they'll buy cars, just like their parents.

But a new study by AlixPartners says that's ignoring a lot of trends that will push car ownership rates down.

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Politics & Government
10:26 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Thwarted once, UAW tries different tack in Chattanooga

An assembly workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee factory. The factory builds the VW Passat.
Credit Volkswagen

It hasn't been a good two years for the UAW.

In late 2012, Governor Snyder signed a law making Michigan - the birthplace of the UAW - a so-called right-to-work state.  The new law allows people in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues. 

Then, in February of 2014, the union lost a key vote to organize more than 1,500 blue-collar employees at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant.

UAW leaders appeared confident, at first, that the vote would go their way.

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Auto
5:39 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Europe auto industry faces headwinds....but more recalls not one of them

Ford sales in Europe rose 6.6% in the first half of 2014
Credit Ford Motor

The auto industry in Europe may be on the way back up, after hitting rock bottom last year, but its woes are by no means over, says Ford's head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, Stephen Odell.

Overcapacity is a persistent concern, he says.   Some European factories are still operating at about 70% of their capacity, although Ford itself has taken steps to reduce its factory and labor costs - having closed one Ford plant in the U.K. and soon to close another in Belgium.

Odell says the biggest factor depressing car sales is the 20 to 25% unemployment rates in southern European countries like Spain and Greece.

"I think the biggest inhibiters is probably employment levels," Odell told a roundtable of journalists in Dearborn.  "Which is why, in our forecast, we have a sort of modest and slow recovery for the next four to five years."

Odell says Ford does expect to regain profitability in Europe next year.

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Environment & Science
6:03 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Environmental groups say another Enbridge pipeline could be disaster in waiting

Environment groups fear the possibility of another big oil spill, this time in Lakes Michigan and Huron.
Credit U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

A "who's who" of environmental groups say a 67-year-old pipeline in the straits of Mackinac  could be a serious threat to the Great Lakes.

The pipeline is owned by Enbridge.  

Howard Learner is head of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

"It's an old aging pipeline," says Learner.  "We can't afford to have happen in the Great Lakes what happened with the Enbridge pipeline and the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.  You know, it's already been a couple of years and we are still cleaning it up.  "

In 2010, more than a million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River after an Enbridge pipeline rupture.

Lerner's group, along with 16 other major environmental groups in Michigan, have sent a letter requesting an urgent meeting with Governor Snyder about the pipeline.

Learner says Enbridge may not be maintaining the pipeline properly, including not installing enough supports for the pipeline. 

And he says the company may be sending oil through it under too much pressure, but there's no way to know until the state forces the company to disclose the information.

There's also a question whether state  regulations written more than 60 years ago meet current standards.

*Correction - A previous version of this story said "more than a million barrels of oil spilled." It was more than a million gallons. Story corrected above.

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Economy
2:22 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Oil, coal approaching "Kodak moment" says analyst

Large-scale oil projects are becoming too costly, says oil industry analyst
Credit Adee Braun / Changing Gears

An analyst who tracks the fossil fuels industry says natural economic and political trends will make the fight against global warming easier than many people predict.  

Phllip Verleger runs PKVerleger, LLC, which provides economic consulting to firms, governments, and individuals on energy and commodity markets.

Verleger thinks global oil use will plummet much faster than most people believe, for three main reasons.

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Auto
12:01 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Ann Arbor latest city to tangle with Uber, Lyft

Screen for getting a ride on Uber or Lyft
Credit Flickr

The app-based, taxi-like services UberX  and Lyft are in talks with the city of Ann Arbor - after the city sent the companies a "cease and desist" letter. 

This is just the latest of many legal tangles across the country for the companies, which are operating in a new grey area of transportation-for-hire. 

The companies say they are "rideshare services."  State and local transportation officials call them "transportation network companies," but insist that many of the regulations applying to traditional taxis also apply to these new services.

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Environment & Science
5:01 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

State approves oil well permit for Scio Township

An oil well.
Credit morguefile

The state has approved a permit for a controversial exploratory oil well in Scio Township close to Ann Arbor.

The approval came despite fierce opposition from residents and Scio Township's board of trustees.

Adam Wygant is with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

He says because of the public comments, the state took two months to study the application - much longer than the 24 days it normally takes to approve a permit for an exploratory oil well.

Wygant says oil wells tend to be less disruptive than people fear, and often, they get used to them.

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Health
4:21 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

State efforts to combat West Nile have reduced cases

West Nile is a virus transmitted by mosquitos. The virus often causes no symptoms in infected humans, but in some cases serious illness and death can occur.
Credit Centers for Disease Control

Michigan is making progress against West Nile.

600 people were infected with West Nile in 2002 when the mosquito-borne virus first appeared.

Last year, there were only 34 cases.

Angela Minicuci is with the state Department of Community Health.

She says many cities now regularly flush out the stagnant pools of water where mosquitos that carry West Nile  breed.

She says individual homeowners' efforts are also contributing to fewer cases.

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Auto
5:24 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Fiat Chrysler continues U.S. sales increase streak

Credit Atlanta Jeep Ram Dodge

Fiat Chrysler continued its climb back to health in June.  It was the 51st month in a row the automaker increased its U.S. year-over-year sales.

The long streak of sales gains is being led by the Jeep and RAM brands. 

Jeep sales rose 28% compared to last June, and RAM sales were up 14%.

"In spite of two fewer selling days in June versus a year ago, we were able to increase our sales 9% and post our strongest June sales in seven years," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler.

The automaker remains weak in terms of small and midsize car sales.  The Dodge Dart has performed well under expectations, selling only 7,225 in June. 

But the company has higher hopes for the new Chrysler 200, which began shipping to dealers in late spring.

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Auto
4:46 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

GM sales are not plummeting despite recalls, scandal

GM sold 11,147 Chevy Tahoes in June, 2014.
Credit General Motors

General Motors' sales rose 1% in June - despite two fewer sales days in the month, despite a delayed recall scandal, and despite the company issuing a record number of recalls.

The Detroit automaker's sales were the best for June since 2007.

Karl Brauer is an analyst with Kelly Blue Book. 

He says the media and Congress have displayed an intense interest in GM's admission that it delayed an ignition switch recall for eleven years. 

Customers aren't paying as much attention.   

"Most people look at this recall as old GM and old models that has nothing to do with what's in the showroom right now," says Brauer.

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Auto
6:10 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

GM issues massive recall of 7.4 million cars for ignition switch problem

GM recalled an additional 7.36 million cars  for what it calls "unintended ignition switch rotation."

That's the same problem at the root of an earlier recall of cars with a defective ignition switch. In February, GM recalled 2.6 million Cobalts, HHRs, Saturn Ions and other small cars with a defective ignition switch.

In both recalls, the car's ignition switch can suddenly turn off, which disables the power steering, power brakes, and air bags.

The new recall is for:

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Auto
5:51 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Compensation for ignition-switch crashes announced

GM has recalled 2.6 million Cobalts, HHRs and other small cars for a defective ignition switch
Credit NHTSA

GM will pay a minimum of $1 million to victims of serious or fatal crashes involving cars with a faulty ignition switch. 

GM admits it delayed a recall of small cars with a defective switch for 11 years. 

GM says 13 people died and 54 were injured when the ignition switch turned off, disabling the power steering, power brakes, seat belt pretensioners and air bags. 

But attorneys for victims' families say there are many more such cases. 

The program is run by Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw similar programs for victims of the BP oil spill and 9/11.  He says it won't be easy to determine who's eligible.

"So many of these accidents occurred long ago," Feinberg says. "The car is gone, and we've gotta come up with circumstantial evidence."

But Feinberg says he will work with families who wish to file claims, or their attorneys, to guide them through what kinds of evidence would substantiate a claim – such as police reports, medical reports, black box data, and witness statements.

The program will also pay for victims' lost earnings and long-term care.

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Business
5:03 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

Another city considers leaving Detroit water system

Detroit provides water to more than four million people in southeast and mid-Michigan - but could lose many of its customers if water rates keep going up.
Credit user rob zand / Flickr

Another city that gets its water from Detroit is talking about pulling out of the system.  

Greg Theokus  is Mayor Pro Tem of Grosse Pointe Park.

He says Detroit's water is already too expensive.

Grosse Pointe Park pays $1.5 million now for its water. That's up from $600,000 ten years ago.

Theokus says Grosse Pointe Park may have no choice, if Detroit water rates skyrocket due to the bankruptcy.

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Transportation
5:34 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Ambassador Bridge loses another appeal in bid to stop new bridge

The Federal Highway Authority has approved the Detroit neighborhood of Delray as the site for a new, public-private international bridge, downriver from the Ambassador Bridge, pictured here.
Credit (photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Another legal obstacle to building a new international bridge in Detroit has been swept away. 

An appeals court panel on Friday struck down challenges made by the Ambassador Bridge's owner and some minority community groups. 

The groups said the Federal Highway Administration's decision to build a new public-private bridge in the downriver community of Delray was arbitrary – and officials deferred too much to Canada's wishes. 

But the appeals court pointed out the decision took years to accomplish and that many other factors besides Canada's wishes were considered.

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Law
10:55 am
Fri June 20, 2014

ACLU says Detroit fireworks curfew may be unconstitutional

Detroit youth face a 6:00 p.m. curfew on June 23, the day the city holds its annual Independence Day fireworks celebration.
Credit morguefile.com

For the third year in a row, Detroit has set a six p.m. curfew for minors under age 18 on the night the city has its annual Independence Day fireworks.

The fireworks are scheduled for the evening of June 23rd.

This time, the ACLU of Michigan is objecting to the curfew.

Attorney Michael Steinberg says the curfew is too broad and is likely unconstitutional.

He says the city has a legitimate interest in preventing crime and other incidents at the popular event --

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