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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Politics & Government
5:26 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

"Heat and Eat" cuts mean less food assistance for some in Michigan

Some families in Michigan will see cuts in their monthly food assistance payments soon.
Credit Liz West / Flickr

Changes to a federal program often called "Heat and Eat" mean about 150,000 Michigan families will soon see reductions in their monthly food assistance benefits.

The cuts will average about $75 a month per family.

The Heat and Eat program offers higher food assistance benefits for families who live in northern states, where heating bills can be high.

But about 20% of the people enrolled in the program actually don't pay for heat. It's included as part of their rent.

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Sports
1:25 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

University of Michigan to play University of Texas! See caveats below

Michigan Stadium. A large football stadium in the Midwest.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The  football teams of the University of Michigan and the University of Texas have agreed – in principle – to play each other.

In 2024. So don't hold your breath.

U of M has racked up the highest number of total victories; Texas, the third highest.

From the Michigan press release:

The Wolverines will host the Longhorns at Michigan Stadium on Aug. 31, 2024. The return trip by Michigan to Austin will take place on Sept. 4, 2027.

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Auto
1:40 pm
Tue September 16, 2014

GM CEO Mary Barra to receive Appeal of Conscience award for handling of recall scandal

Mary Barra listens in to a call at GM's Customer Engagement Center in the wake of the ignition switch recall.
Credit General Motors

GM CEO Mary Barra will receive an Appeal of Conscience Award on September 23rd from the interfaith organization Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Barra is being honored for her leadership in the wake of a shocking revelation in late January that General Motors had delayed a potentially deadly ignition switch recall for ten years.

The switches could be knocked out of the run position into the accessory position when the cars went over a bump.  That disabled safety features, including airbags.

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Auto
12:34 pm
Tue September 16, 2014

GM adds third shift, 750 workers, to Wentzville, MO factory

The assembly line at GM's Wentzville, Missouri assembly plant.
Credit General Motors

General Motors is adding a third shift to its Wentzville, Missouri plant to meet expected demand for the midsize trucks that are built there.

GM is introducing new versions of its midsize trucks, the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon.

The new shift is expected to start work in early 2015.

The automaker says dealers have ordered 30,000 Colorados already, "which is very high for early orders."

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Auto
10:37 am
Mon September 15, 2014

19 death claims due to GM faulty ignition switch approved for special compensation so far

Credit GM

For months, General Motors has estimated 13 people were killed as a result of accidents linked to a faulty ignition switch in Cobalts, HHRs, Saturn Ions, and some other small cars.

But it appears the estimate was low.

GM has established a special voluntary compensation program for victims or families of victims who can prove serious or fatal accidents were linked to the defective switch.

The program began taking claims on August 1.

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Education
6:54 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Kalamazoo College among best in nation at enrolling (and graduating) low-income students

Kalamazoo College President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran
Credit Kalamazoo College

An analysis by the New York Times ranks Kalamazoo College 12th in the nation among elite colleges that enroll a large percentage of PELL-grant eligible students.

The eligibility for PELL grants is a strong marker for low-income status, since many students in families above the poverty level are not eligible for the grants.

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Environment & Science
11:03 am
Fri September 5, 2014

Exploratory well in Scio Township comes up dry

West Bay Exploration, an oil and gas drilling company, found no deposits of oil or gas in its exploratory well in Scio Township. So the company is leaving the area – for now.

Scio Township trustees passed a moratorium against oil and gas activities, but the legality of the moratorium was questionable, according to the Michigan Township Association.

And West Bay did not honor the moratorium, according to Laura Robinson of Citizens for Oil-Free Backyards.

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Education
10:19 am
Wed September 3, 2014

Save the Children: Michigan's lack of school disaster planning "reprehensible"

Credit (photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan is one of only two states (the other being Iowa) that does not meet any of the minimum standards for disaster planning for schools and child care operators, according to Save the Children.

An annual report by the group says Michigan schools are not required to have a "multi-threat" disaster plan, which would include drills for active shooter events.

And the group says, while large child care centers are required to have disaster plans in place, family and individual day care operators are not.

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Auto
3:51 pm
Mon September 1, 2014

Auto industry, regulators prepare for "mid-term review" of CAFE

Ford's three-cylinder Ecoboost engine. Ford's strategy to meet new fuel economy standards includes smaller engines and lightweighting.
Credit Ford Motor Company

To most of us, 2017 is three years away.

To the auto industry, it's just around the corner.  The fast-paced industry develops its vehicles three to five years ahead of when they will be on the market.

So, there's already a lot of talk about what's going to happen during the midterm review in 2017.

That's when everyone gets together to determine if the nation's ambitious new fuel economy standards for the years 2022-2025 are technologically feasible - without making vehicles so expensive we can't afford them, or so impractical we don't want them. 

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Politics & Government
8:56 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

New alliance seeks to restore public education funding through political action

Retired English teacher Pat Kuessner at MTAC rally (CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDE SHOW)
Tracy Samilton

A new political alliance says it will try to help elect Mark Schauer as Michigan Governor in November, along with other politicians who want to restore public education funding.

Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change held its first rally in Ann Arbor Thursday evening. 

About 250 people, many of them teachers, attended. 

Most were from Ann Arbor.  But one teacher drove all the way from Marquette to support the cause.

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Veterans courts
12:26 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Veterans courts expanding rapidly in Michigan

A Marine veteran places his hand over his heart as a sign of respect during a ceremony Feb. 19, 2010 at the Marine Corps League Detachment 246 meeting hall in honor of the Marines who fought in the Feb 19 - March 26, 1945 battle of Iwo Jima.
Credit Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton

There are now 17 counties in Michigan that offer special courts for veterans, to try to steer them towards treatment, instead of incarceration.

Monroe County began its new Veterans Court this month.

Melody Powers is a veterans outreach justice coordinator with the VA Health System in Ann Arbor.  She says many veterans who get in trouble with the law have untreated alcoholism or post-traumatic stress disorder.  But it's often very difficult for them to ask for help.

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Auto
10:56 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Car customer satisfaction slips for almost all, more for non-U.S. brands

Chevrolet and Buick were the only two brands to see an increase in customer satisfaction in the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Credit GM

Customer satisfaction with new cars declined for the second year in a row. 

This year, satisfaction with new car purchases declined a little more than one percent, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. 

Founder Claus Fornell says car companies are churning out cars pretty fast these days to meet the high demand.  That may be increasing quality problems - and  recalls.

"It's a nuisance or worse, for consumers," says Fornell, "and therefore, it's not surprising that customer satisfaction is lower for those people who have had a recall."

But Fornell says satisfaction with cars is still quite high compared to most industries. That's because there's been a dramatic improvement in car quality.

"Compared to let's say 20-25 years ago, all these products are very good.   It is not low satisfaction compared to other industries, but it is going in the wrong direction."

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Auto
3:35 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Tiny company has big hopes for more propane-fueled cars

Filling up with liquid natural gas, aka, propane, aka, autogas
Credit David Villa

Propane production in the U.S. is booming - and so is business for a small Michigan company that retrofits vehicles to run on the fuel.

Albert Venezio is Chairman of Icom North America.  Icom N.A. has 25 employees and is based in New Hudson, Michigan.

Albert Venezio, the company's North American Chairman, says propane, otherwise known as autogas, is cheaper and cleaner than diesel or gasoline, and it's ideal for fleets, delivery vans, and school buses. 

One big customer is Metro Cars at Detroit Metro Airport.  The company has converted all its vehicles to run on the Icom system.  The system allows cars to switch between propane or gasoline as needed.

"We can reduce their  fuel costs at least a dollar a gallon, sometimes as much as $2 a gallon, and we reduce emissions probably in the 30-50% ratio, and they use a domestic fuel," says Venezio.

Propane is found wherever natural gas is found.  The natural gas fracking boom has caused a plentiful supply of propane.

Venezio says the U.S. may have enough propane deposits to fuel 5 million vehicles annually.   Right now, about 200,000 vehicles in the U.S. can run on propane. 

The numbers of propane vehicles are much higher in Europe, where taxes make diesel and gasoline fuels very expensive.

Vehicles running on propane get about 10% lower fuel economy - but the fuel produces about a third  lower CO2 emissions - and zero particulate matter. 

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Oil and gas drilling
11:45 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Michigan Township Association leery of fracking moratoriums

Activists seeking ban on fracking in Michigan
Credit Steven Depolo

The Michigan Township Association says townships that pass fracking moratoriums could be on shaky legal ground.

Scio Township passed a six-month moratorium on well drilling activity earlier this week, as part of an effort to stop an oil and gas company from looking for deposits in the township.

Catherine Mullhaupt  is the Association's Director of Member Information Services.

She says the Association's legal counsel believes the state alone can deny or issue permits for oil and gas drilling, otherwise known as "fracking."  That goes for gravel mining, too.

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Auto
12:32 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

Biggest model transition in Ford history begins Friday

The first F-series truck made by Ford in 1948.
Alden Jewell Flickr

Pickup trucks are the most profitable and popular vehicle in the United States, keeping hundreds of thousands of American farmers, ranchers, and small companies in business.

And Ford's F-150 is the king of all the pickup trucks. It's been the best-selling vehicle of any kind for decades.

On Friday evening, the last 2014 model year F-150 pickup truck rolls off the assembly line at the Dearborn Truck Plant.

Then the work begins to prepare the plant to build the next version – a groundbreaking truck with a mostly aluminum body. 

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Health
5:56 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Michigan seeks "pay for success" partners to reduce infant mortality

"Pay for success" project seeks to reduce Michigan's infant mortality rate, which has been above the national average for 20 years
Credit Michigan Dept. of Community Health

Michigan's first experiment with an idea called "pay for success" is getting underway.

The state is asking private or non-profit groups for proposals to reduce infant mortality.  

"The goal," says Snyder administration spokesman Dave Murray, "is to help high-risk mothers and their babies, through home visitation or community programs or better coordination of care up until the child's second birthday."

Murray says the selected partners would pay for the projects up front.

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Economy
4:35 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Pontiac's crisis, like Detroit's, leads to call for renewal

Pontiac is exiting emergency management, and city leaders hope a redevelopment plan will help revitalize it.
Credit user dt10111 / Flickr

Pontiac may be emerging from emergency management, but it's still far from a thriving city.

The city lost thousands of auto jobs before and during the recession, and has fewer than 60,000 residents.

Abandoned homes, schools and industrial buildings abound.  

Soon, Oakland County will hire a consultant to develop a revitalization plan for the city.

Bret Rasegan is with the Oakland County Development office. 

He says Pontiac is important to the county, in the same way that Detroit is important to southeast Michigan.

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Auto
2:54 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Dream Cruise, move over. The Swedes do classic car love-fests better.

A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Credit Wikimedia

With the venerable Woodward Dream Cruise just days away, thousands of metro Detroiters are pulling the

covers off the precious classic American car in the garage, and buffing her to a shine.

Few of us know that Swedes share the same love affair.

A few weeks ago, Vegas Tenold attended the 30th annual "Power Big Meet" in Vasteras, Sweden.  He writes for the New York Times:

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Economy
2:20 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Home builders, Consumers Energy fix failure to communicate

New home construction grew 30% in 2013, compared to the year before.
Credit hstreetagent

New home construction improved 30% in Michigan last year, compared to the year before.  That's the opposite of a problem, right?

Except......one of the state's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy, wasn't prepared for the growth.

Bob Filka is CEO of the Home Builders Association of Michigan.

He says Consumers had made its plans based on a 5% growth estimate.  The result was the utility did not have enough staff and resources in place to deal with the mini-boom in home building.

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Environment & Science
9:30 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Toledo mayor lifts water ban

National Wildlife Federation President Collin O'Mara holding a glass of Lake Erie water.
Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Update Monday, August 4th, 9:40am: Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins says the water ban is lifted in northwest Ohio and drinking water for 400,000 residents is safe. We'll have more details as they come in.

Sunday, August 3, 2014:   More than 400,000 people in Toledo and surrounding areas are without drinking water for a second day, due to a huge cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie, where the area gets its water supply.  The cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, create a dangerous toxin called microcystin, and exposure to the toxin can cause serious health issues. 

On Sunday afternoon, a boat hastily chartered by the National Wildlife Federation cruises over to see the massive cyanobacteria bloom floating near the city of Toledo.  It's hot, and it's a pretty day, but the water looks oddly bright green.

That's the cyanobacteria bloom. The blooms have been appearing for a couple of decades, but they're getting worse.

Toledo Councilman Larry Sykes says he and other officials have been worried about this for a long time.

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