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Autonomous vehicles promise to dramatically reduce congestion in large cities and save thousands of lives, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

That's why the Obama administration will ask Congress to budget $3.9 billion over the next ten years to help spur the development of the technologies that enable cars to drive themselves.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company just can't seem to get investors to believe.

The company likely had its most profitable year ever in 2015.

On Tuesday, Ford announced a special dividend supplement of a billion dollars. 

And its stock fell. 

At the 2016 Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Ford CEO Mark Fields said he is not discouraged, despite the company's persistently low stock price on average.

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 Fiat-Chrysler has introduced its new version of an old concept: the minivan.

The automaker unveiled the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show on Monday.

Chrysler says the “top-to-bottom” redesign features a sleeker exterior that’s much like the Chrysler 200, with dual-side sliding doors and added interior bonuses.

It will also offer a plug-in hybrid version that the automaker claims will get 80 miles to the gallon highway mileage.

Ford Motor Company

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles navigate using technologies to detect lane markers to stay on course.

But what happens when those lane markers are covered with snow?

Engineers with the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Company say their new research shows it's possible for a self-driving car to get around using highly detailed 3D maps of everything that surrounds the vehicle.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

In his first U.S. press conference since being named CEO of Volkswagen, Matthias Mueller said he planned to submit a "package" of solutions to remedy the company's deliberate installation of devices that disable emissions controls in 600,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S.

Volkswagen also installed the devices in millions of its vehicles globally.

"It is not only our cars we have to fix," Mueller told a crowd of automotive reporters Sunday night, "we know we have to repair our credibility, too."

ford, dash board, car
antefixus21/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The march of technology continues, bringing us closer to the day when owning your own car may be less important than on-demand transportation services.  And closer to the day when we expect our cars to be super-connected to just about everything.

Automakers are laying the groundwork for this new era, as seen in some  announcements this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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The federal government says it has reached an impasse in talks with Volkswagen over penalties for emissions cheating. 

So the government is suing the automaker. 

The Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court in Detroit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that Volkswagen installed software in 600,000 so-called "clean diesel" cars that sensed when an emissions test was being performed. 

  NEW YORK (AP) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is recalling nearly 450,000 SUVs worldwide in two separate recalls that includes the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

  The automaker said Thursday about 353,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs with model years 2011-2012 are being recalled because wiring in the vanity mirror may overheat and create a fire hazard. No injuries or accidents were reported.

The National Safety Council has a grim prediction: 307 people will die in traffic accidents over the three-day Christmas holiday period.

And 346 will lose their lives over the three-day New Year's holiday period. 

A combination of low gas prices, lower unemployment, and good driving weather means more people will be on the road, increasing the risk of fatal accidents.

Ken Kolosh manages the statistics group for the National Safety Council.

He says many of the deaths are preventable.  Take the very simple act of buckling up in the car. 

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Driverless cars are racking up more than double the number of accidents as conventional cars with a human behind the wheel. 

But "it's a complicated message," says Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

His study shows that driverless cars get in 9.1 crashes per million miles driven. 

But here's the really interesting part.  The accidents have all been minor - the worst injury was whiplash - and the crashes were all caused by human drivers plowing into the back of the driverless cars. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) - Union members at a major Michigan auto parts supplier have approved a five-year contract.

The United Auto Workers says the deal with Nexteer Automotive was approved by 61 percent of workers who cast ballots. The results were announced early Saturday.

  Nexteer makes steering systems for General Motors, Ford Motor and other auto companies. It has roughly 3,000 UAW-represented employees in the Saginaw area, 100 miles north of Detroit.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

UAW employees at Nexteer in Saginaw County are voting on a new contract today.   A ‘No’ vote could affect General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.  

This is the second time around for Nexteer’s three thousand workers at its Buena Vista plant. They resoundingly rejected a previous deal and walked picket lines for a day before this new offer.

Nexteer supplies steering and driveline systems to General Motors. It also supplies parts to Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota.

The contract includes a two thousand dollar signing bonus, as well as a wage increase. 

Ford Motor Co.

Hybrid and electric car sales right now are weak.  That's not surprising, given that the price of a gallon of gasoline is averaging under $2 a gallon in 41 states.

So why is Ford upping the ante on electrification?

There's only one domestic carmaker among the North American Car and Truck of the Year finalists this year.

Votes have been cast by an independent panel of auto journalists from the U.S. and Canada, and the winners will be announced in January at the 2016 North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Click through the slideshow above to see this year's finalists.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Nexteer workers are back on the job.

Less than 24 hours after members of UAW local 699 walked out of the Buena Vista plant, the strike is over. 

The union announced on its Facebook page Tuesday night that it has reached a tentative contract with the auto parts supplier.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A major General Motors parts supplier is on strike.

Members of United Auto Workers local 699 walked off the job at Nexteer in Saginaw County just after midnight.   

Nexteer supplies steering and driveline systems to General Motors.   It also supplies parts to Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

UAW workers at a major General Motors parts supplier have resoundingly rejected a new contract.

Nexteer is based in Saginaw County.   The company employs more than 3,000 employees.  Almost all of them voted against the contract.

The results of Sunday’s voting: 3103 against to 80 for.

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A "barn burner." 

That's how Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, characterizes new car sales in 2015. 

Sales are expected to at least match the all-time record of 17.4 million set in 2000.

MARIORDO / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

New research finds a surprising number of drivers around the world are open to trying a self-driving car.

Nearly 60% of respondents said they would be willing to travel in a fully self-driving car, according to a survey conducted jointly  by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group.

The number was slightly lower in the U.S. at 52%.

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A new study commissioned by the Governors Highway Safety Association finds that people are significantly less likely to buckle up in the back seat. 

And that means people are dying in traffic accidents that they might otherwise survive.

Researcher James Hedlund says of the 883 unrestrained rear seat passenger fatalities in 2013, more than 400 would likely have survived had they buckled up.

UAW President Dennis Williams chats with GM CEO Mary Barra at the kickoff of the 2015 contract negotiations
Jeffrey Sauger / General Motors

This summer, as contract talks with the Detroit Three kicked off, United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams warned that negotiations are "never easy."

He was right.

Last week, the union came within a hairsbreadth of having a contract with Ford Motor Company sent back by rank and file with a big "NO DEAL" stamp on its face. 

Ford Motor Company's headquarters in Dearborn.
Ford Motor Company

DETROIT - Ford workers have voted in favor of a new four-year contract.

The United Auto Workers union said late Friday that the contract passed with a 51.4% vote.  The agreement covers 53,000 U.S. hourly workers at 22 plants.

The contract raises wages for all workers and promises $9 billion in investments at Ford's U.S. plants over four years.

It also promises ratification bonuses of up to $10,250 per worker.

DEARBORN, Michigan - Leaders of the United Auto Workers are making a push for the union's proposed contract with Ford, which is heading for defeat in votes at Ford's plants.

The union's chief Ford negotiator, Jimmy Settles, said Wednesday that with 75 percent of workers voting, the contract is failing by a 52-48 percent margin. Voting ends Friday.

DETROIT (AP) - Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers union have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract.

  The UAW said the agreement was reached Friday morning. The contract covers 53,000 workers at 22 U.S. plants.

A supercharger station in Monterey, California. Tesla is bringing two more supercharging stations to Michigan.
Steve Jurvetson / Flickr

Are you really doing the environment a favor by buying and driving an electric car? 

The answer may depend on where in the country you live.

New research indicates the impact of electric cars on the environment is much more nuanced than many people realize.

Porsche

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has discovered more "defeat devices" in vehicles with diesel engines made by Volkswagen.

In September, the EPA said it had discovered emissions cheating in 482,000 VW and Audi diesel cars, which were equipped with software that could detect when there was an emissions test happening.  The cars' emissions controls would turn on for the test, and turn off during normal driving.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Union local presidents will learn more about a tentative deal between General Motors and the United Auto Workers Wednesday.

But not much is public about the deal yet. 

Just hours after the tentative deal was announced, the first next generation Camaro rolled off the assembly line in Lansing.

UAW President Dennis Williams chats with GM CEO Mary Barra at the kickoff of the 2015 contract negotiations
Jeffrey Sauger / General Motors

The United Auto Workers has reached a tentative four-year contract with GM, averting the possibility of a strike for now.

The union had also set a strike deadline with Fiat Chrysler during a second round of negotiations, after the first tentative contract reached with that automaker was rejected by workers.

A strike deadline puts pressure on both sides, which view a strike as a failure of contract talks.

Neither GM nor the UAW are providing details.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Contract talks are continuing between General Motors and the United Auto Workers union as a midnight deadline approaches.

  GM spokeswoman Katie McBride said Sunday afternoon that talks were on a fast pace and the company still hoped to get an agreement by midnight.

striking UAW workers
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The United Auto Workers union says its workers at General Motors will strike if it can't agree on a new contract with the company by 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

  Both sides are still negotiating. The union made a similar threat in recent discussions with Fiat Chrysler before agreeing to a new four-year contract.

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