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Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry, business, and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio.   She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly "bitten by the radio bug," and never recovered.  She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.   Her coverage of Michigan's Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. 

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. 

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

Car companies are doing their public relations best to avert angry tweets by President-elect Donald Trump, who has been threatening steep tariffs on cars made in Mexico.

Today, General Motors announced it would invest $1 billion in U.S. plants and projects and create 7,000 U.S. jobs.  That appears to be a total of 1,500 "new and retained" jobs related to the billion-dollar investment: 450 jobs from in-sourcing truck axle work from Mexico, and 5,000 jobs primarily related to GM's decision in 2015 to in-source much of its IT operations to Warren, Michigan.

Michigan State Capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state's 138-year-old state Capitol building needs $62 million in urgent repairs to its infrastructure, according to the Capitol Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the building and the grounds.

Chairman Gary Randall says there was a big effort to fix the building in the 1980's and 1990's.

The GM Bolt EV, The Chrysler Pacifica, and the Honda Ridgeline won the awards.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

GM’s Chevy Bolt beat out the Genesis G90 and the Volvo S90 for the 2017 North American Car of the Year award. 

Sharon Carty of Automotive News was one of the jurors for the award.  She says it's no surprise the Bolt got the award.  It's the first long-range mass-market electric car to make it to the market.

"And it's great inside, it's super modern," says Carty.  "It's gonna definitely be a Tesla fighter." Tesla has announced plans for a mass market long-range electric car, but the vehicle hasn't yet been launched.   

flickr user Bernt Rostad / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert says he was in Toronto recently, and the view from his hotel featured numerous construction cranes.

He figures that will be a reality for Detroit, too - and soon.

Gilbert says there is almost no office space available in the growing downtown.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Google self-driving spin-off Waymo will show its fully automated Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans at the 2017 North American International Auto Show.

"With the integration of Waymo's hardware and software," says Waymo CEO John Krafcik, "these Pacificas have become the most advanced cars on the road."

Krafcik says the lidar (an environment sensing system that uses lasers), radar, and other self-driving technology, along with the artificial intelligence software, were all developed in-house by Waymo engineers.

The Ambassador Bridge could have a new neighbor (the Gordie Howe International Bridge) by early 2022.
Michael Carian / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit are suing Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Transportation over the proposed new Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Former Attorney General Mike Cox is representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit claims only the state legislature is authorized to approve a new international bridge, and since the legislature didn't do so, the agreement between the Snyder administration and Canada (which is paying the entire cost) is illegal.

A spokeswoman for the governor says, "We disagree, and we are proceeding as planned."

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The U.S. EPA estimates that companies in Michigan waste up to a third of the energy they buy because of inefficient buildings and equipment.

But most of the companies just keep paying those high energy bills, month after month, because they can't make a business case for a big energy efficiency project. The payback for the upgrades takes too long – often ten or more years.

Andy Levin is the CEO of Lean and Green Michigan.

Steve Fecht / General Motors

January 15th will be Mary Barra's three-year anniversary as CEO of General Motors.  The world's first (and only) female top executive of a major automaker, her transition was a trial by fire.

Barra became CEO of one of the world's largest automakers the week GM revealed it had delayed -- for ten years -- a recall of millions of small cars with faulty ignition switches. 

The scandal cost GM dearly, and Barra took the brunt of the political repercussions, appearing in the hot seat before U.S. House and U.S. Senate committees in the summer of 2014.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The hottest topic in the auto industry in 2016?  It's no contest, says Michelle Krebs of Autotrader. 

Self-driving or autonomous cars captured most of the biggest headlines, from a deadly accident involving a semi-autonomous Tesla car, to General Motors' announcement last week that it would test self-driving Chevy Bolts on metro Detroit roads in 2017.

Krebs says some of the buzz is just that - buzz.  But she has been impressed by the pace of developments, with Google, Uber, GM, and others all in some stage of testing autonomous vehicles on public roadways.

flickr

U.S. car companies are unlikely to get much relief from strict fuel economy standards under the next administration.

That's according to Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book.

She says car companies already did most of the work required for the year 2022.  They're unlikely to throw it all away and start over if the standards change.

"You know, it's like training for a marathon," says Lindland, "and then saying, 'Oh, no, sorry, just kidding.  It's only a 10k.'"

wikimedia commons

The upcoming North American International Auto Show might be more notable for the topics of discussion than the vehicles.

That's according to analyst Michelle Krebs of AutoTrader.

She says there's a lot going on right now, like the need for car companies to transition to mobility companies, as self-driving cars come closer to being a reality.  Then there's the transition to a new president.

While still the best-selling sedan in U.S., Toyota Camry sales dropped 10% in 2016.
Toyota

In 2015, for the first time ever, compact SUVs outsold sedans in the U.S.

Consumers continued to ditch sedans for SUVs this year. For example, while still the best-selling sedan in the U.S., sales of the Toyota Camry dropped ten percent in 2016. 

Sales of other formerly popular sedans plummeted even further. 

Michelle Krebs of Autotrader says gas prices remain low, and SUVs are a lot more fuel efficient than they used to be.

DTE Energy / via Twitter

The Michigan Environmental Council says energy legislation signed into law by Governor Snyder on Wednesday is a vast improvement over earlier versions.

The initial package proposed to eliminate Michigan's 10% renewable energy mandate, as well as eliminate a mandate to reduce electricity demand by one percent per year.

Instead, after months of negotiations, the renewable mandate was boosted, to 15% by the year 2021, and electric utilities must still reduce demand by at least one percent a year.

flickr.com

The Arab American Civil Rights League claims Western Union is discriminating against customers based on their religion and country of origin.

Director Rula Aoun says the company refused service to Dearborn resident and long-time Western Union customer Haidar Abdallah. 

He wanted to send money to the West Bank in Palestine.  Aoun says the amount was not suspicious.

"This was just a couple hundred dollars, just to support his wife and children," says Aoun.

car gear shift
Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Federal auto safety regulators have launched an investigation into the safety of some of Fiat Chrysler's newer model trucks and SUVs.

The investigation involves about a million 2013 to 2016 model year Ram pickups and 2014 to 2016 Dodge Durango SUVs. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The sub-zero temperatures across the state of Michigan this morning do not mean that global warming isn't real. 

Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology for Weather Underground, is explaining this a lot these days.  He says the long-term trend is clearly a warming planet.  But global warming doesn't mean 'no more winter.'

"The earth is still tilted on its axis," says Masters, "which means we get unequal heating of the poles, and that causes the seasons, and the seasons haven't gone away.  We still expect cold weather, just less of it."

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Chrysler will provide about a hundred hybrid minivans for a pilot project with Waymo - Google's self-driving car subsidiary. 

The Chrysler-Waymo partnership follows GM's announcement that it will test self-driving Chevy Bolts in metro Detroit. 

Kelley Blue Book's Karl Brauer says Chrysler's minivans will let Waymo test self-driving vehicles with larger groups of people.  They could serve as mini-buses on campuses, for example.  

Brauer says it's been a big year for projects involving autonomous vehicles.

Map shows the extent of the underground 1,4 dioxane plume under Ann Arbor.
SCIO RESIDENTS FOR SAFE WATER

A lawsuit to force a cleanup of Ann Arbor's contaminated water appears to have set a new precedent. The judge allowed a watershed advocacy group to become one of the plaintiffs. That's despite both the polluter and the state attorney general arguing against it.

The Huron River Watershed Council says no one in the lawsuit was advocating for the river itself, including aquatic life and the risk to people swimming, fishing and boating.

Out of the 38 under-performing schools that could be closed in Michigan, 25 of them are located in Metro Detroit.
Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

State officials are crediting a new "early warning" law for reducing the number of school districts in fiscal crisis.

In 2015, 41 districts had budget deficits; this year, only 27 have deficits.

State Treasurer Nick Khouri says the state can now intervene before a district is in a serious financial situation.

"The easiest thing to do is to deny a problem for years and years until it's too late to solve," says Khouri, "so part of this process is to make sure that these issues are brought up early."

General Motors

General Motors' CEO Mary Barra announced Thursday that the automaker will be testing autonomous vehicles on the streets of Detroit soon.

Self-driving Chevy Bolts are already being tested in California and Arizona.  The Bolt is GM's new long-range electric car.

Michigan's bad weather makes it ideal for the next place to test how safe and reliable self-driving cars can be, said Barra – on a day when the high temperature reached 16 degrees.

"This will be our main location for cold weather, as well as winter driving conditions," she said.

flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a proposed rule that would require vehicle-to-vehicle technology, or V2V, to be standard on all cars.

There's a 90-day public comment on the proposal.

V2V technology allows cars to send wi-fi signals to each other, and another feature, automatic braking –which U.S. automakers have already voluntarily agreed to make standard – prevents crashes based on the signals. 

General Motors

A bill to give a tax break to companies that contract manufacturing work for other companies is being introduced in the U.S. Senate. 

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow says Section 199 of the tax code is one of the largest tax incentives available to boost domestic manufacturing.  It gives manufacturing activities a 9% tax deduction. 

But the law is unclear whether a company that manufacturers something for another company should also get the deduction.  A bill co-sponsored by Stabenow and Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman makes it clear that it should. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan's Palisades nuclear power plant is shutting down.

Entergy Corporation, the owner, made the decision after Consumers Energy, which had been purchasing the electricity from Palisades, ended its contract with Entergy early.

"The contract....is higher than market," says Consumers' Dan Bishop.  "It's more expensive than other sources in the market, so agreeing to end that contract early could save Consumers Energy electric customers as much as $172 million."

Consumers will also pay Entergy $172 million for the early termination of the contract.

Ballots being prepared for the recount in Ingham County.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

The Detroit News reports that nearly a third of the precincts in Wayne County - most of them in Detroit - may not be able to be recounted in the presidential recount which began Monday in Michigan, due to broken machines and mistakes by poll workers.

Wayne County starts its recount on Tuesday. From the News:

“It’s not good,” conceded Daniel Baxter, elections director for the city of Detroit.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says federal prosecutions of hate crimes will remain a priority in Michigan - even if she herself is replaced by a new administration.

McQuade is U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

She hopes to reassure people who may fear that the government will abandon the prosecution of hate crimes, due the tone of the discourse during the presidential campaign.

wikimedia commons

It's going to take more time and work than originally expected to fix a methane problem at an old Kent County landfill. 

In August, county officials discovered during routine tests that the methane from a landfill next door to the Kentwood City Office Building was migrating outside its perimeter.

Methane is a flammable gas created by the decomposition of organic matter.

Director of Public Works Darwin Baas says the subsequent investigation revealed a surprising amount of methane being produced.

The Packard Plant Project

If you have driven past the derelict Packard Plant in Detroit recently -- that eyesore beloved of Detroit "ruin porn" photographers -- you probably noticed something is different.

Most of the graffiti is gone.

And more improvements for the massive east Detroit property are on the way. Owners say the Packard Plant Project will be the largest historic renovation in North American history - and the third largest globally.

Computer rendering of overpasses at American Center for Mobility.
State of Michigan

Willow Run is more than 330 acres of crumbling concrete and weeds today. 

But the site of the B-24 bomber assembly plant during World War II will soon be transformed  into miles of roads, highways, overpasses, and nighttime lighting, where the self-driving and connected cars of the future will be developed and tested. 

At the groundbreaking Monday, Governor Rick Snyder said the project will keep Michigan in the driver's seat as the world changes.

the plume, 1,4 dioxane
http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/environmental_health/card / Washtenaw County

The state Department of Environmental Quality has issued an emergency rule establishing a stricter cleanup criteria for 1,4 dioxane, a highly carcinogenic chemical that has polluted Ann Arbor's groundwater for decades.

The plume of contaminated water has been slowly moving in all directions, including towards the Huron River.  It's feared that eventually the contamination could reach Barton Pond, the source of the city's drinking water.

U.S. Attorney

A Detroit immigration attorney accused of bribing a federal special agent is also being accused of defrauding former clients.

Attorney Brad Thomson represents some of Charles Busse's former clients. He says Busse made promises he couldn't keep, filed unnecessary documents, and that some people were deported to their home countries because of his mistakes.

Thomson says given the federal charges facing Busse, there may not be much money left over for his clients, and it may be difficult or impossible to reopen some deported immigrants' cases.

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