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. 


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%.

Whatshername / creative commons

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.

wikimedia / creative commons

The Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System has determined that a water main break was responsible for tiny "specks" of material found on and in cases that store sterile surgical equipment.

Nurses found the specks as part of a routine examination of the equipment prior to surgeries.

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. 

Flickr/creative commons

A statewide push to reduce homelessness appears to be working, especially among homeless veterans. 

Kelly Rose with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority says overall homelessness in the first half of 2015 is down about 10% compared to the same period last year.


Scientists say a toxic bacteria bloom in Lake Erie this past summer was the largest on record, and produced a thick scum so big it could almost cover New York City.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the outbreak surpassed the record-setting bloom in 2011 that stretched from Toledo to Cleveland.

Sandy Bihn is with Lake Erie Waterkeeper Inc. 

She says states bordering Lake Erie have to dramatically reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into the lake.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that helps cyanobacteria grow.

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Wayne County's wastewater treatment plant will soon have to reduce the amount of phosphorus it dumps into the Detroit River.

It's part of the state's plan to lower phosphorus levels in Lake Erie to control cyanobacteria blooms. 

Bill Creal is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  He says the new permit for Wayne County will be the same as the permit given to Detroit Water and Sewerage last year, which was more successful at reducing phosphorus than anyone envisioned.

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.


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.

Michigan would have many more of these under a 100% renewable plan proposed by a Stanford University professor.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A study by Stanford University professor Marc Jacobson says every state in the U.S. could get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2050 – and save money in the process.

In Michigan, most of that power would come from the state's most abundant renewable resource: wind. Forty percent of the state's electric needs could be met with on-shore wind power, according to Jacobson's analysis, and 31% from off-shore wind power.

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.

Lance McCord

Blame "antigenic drift" for the failure of last year's flu vaccine to offer a robust protection against the illness.

The Centers for Disease Control says a series of small genetic changes in a flu virus can make it just different enough from the original variant included in the vaccine, that a vaccinated person's immune system won't recognize it.

And that person can get the flu even after getting the shot.

So, so unfair.

However, health department officials say all was not lost last year. 

John F. Martin / General Motors

GM's announcement that it will add a second shift to its Hamtramck facility is being warmly welcomed by the Detroit Economic Development Corporation.

Ken Chapa is Executive Vice President of Business Development for the group.  He says these are good-paying jobs that help boost Detroit's economy.

Fiat Chrysler

Members of the United Auto Workers union begin voting on a tentative new contract with Fiat Chrysler on Tuesday.  

Union leaders are being less passive after the rank and file rejected the first tentative deal in September. 

For the second tentative contract, the union hired an outside public relations firm and engaged with members on Facebook and Twitter to explain the terms. 

Voting on this contract will take place over two days, instead of two weeks, giving critics a lot less time to criticize and drum up resistance. 

Jerry Oldenettel / Flickr

"Who teaches kids to kill?"

That's the first sentence of one of the emails and leaflets being distributed by the Humane Society of Huron Valley after the Ann Arbor City Council voted 8 to 1 to approve a deer cull.  

The email continues,

Dan Bobkoff / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Nurses Association is supporting legislation that would mandate specific nurse-to-patient staffing levels in hospitals.

For example, an emergency room nurse, under most circumstances, could care for no more than three patients.

A pediatric intensive care unit nurse could care for only one patient at a time.

John Armelagos is president of the Michigan Nurses Association. He says having too many patients causes stress and fatigue for nurses, as well as the potential for mistakes.

wikipedia / creative commons

Grand Rapids Public Schools plans to test the drinking water in its schools  for lead.

The district will start with older buildings first. They are more likely to have lead pipes.

John Helmholdt is Communications Director for Grand Rapids Public Schools. He says the district had already planned to do the testing before high lead levels were found in some Flint homes and school buildings.

"This is all the more reason we should be doing it, having seen what our friends in Flint have gone through," says Helmholdt.

The Flint River.
Sarah Razak / Flickr

The state plans to urge all schools to test for lead in the drinking water, after elevated lead levels showed up in the water in several schools in Flint.

Flint's situation is unique, in that the city switched to using more corrosive water from the Flint River last year.

Fiat Chryler CEO Sergio Marchionne, left, and UAW President Dennis Williams.

Local leaders of the United Auto Workers have voted to approve a new, tentative four-year contract with Fiat Chrysler, after workers overwhelmingly rejected the first version last week.

Many workers were confused about the terms of the rejected contract, especially about the vague language describing a new health care co-op. 

Part of the new line 6B pipeline in central Michigan.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The two oil pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac are not unique.

The National Wildlife Federation says there are 5,110 locations across the United States where oil pipelines run through or under navigable waters.

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus helps those slimy, bright green blooms of toxic cyanobacteria grow.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 oil pipeline has lain deep under the water in the choppy Straits of Mackinac for more than 60 years. 

Over the decades, Line 5 has fed billions of barrels of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas into the lower peninsula of Michigan. 

Yet there has never been a drill to test the region’s readiness for a spill from a leak or rupture of the pipe. 

Until now, that is.

screen grab / U.S. House of Representatives

Updated: 4:22 pm

The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to dismiss two criminal charges against General Motors related to its handling of an ignition switch recall - that is, if the automaker forfeits $900 million, and cooperates for three years on an agreement that includes the appointment of an independent monitor.

Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz / wikipedia/creative commons

Michigan will have about 89 new E-15 pumps soon, due to federal grants.

Currently, most gasoline pumps in the state deliver gas with 10% ethanol, a fuel made from corn.  

The federal government is encouraging wider distribution of gas with higher blends of ethanol.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says GM, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford have been making vehicles that run on E-15 and higher blends for years.


Alcantara, a small Italian manufacturer, is touting a rare achievement: carbon neutrality, meaning a zero carbon footprint.  

Alcantara is a luxury materials supplier for auto and other industries. Some of its products are used for interiors of luxury automobiles.

Ford Motor Company

It's crunch time for negotiators for the United Auto Workers, and Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

Union contracts with the car companies expire next week, on September 14.

Dwight Burdette / creative commons

Washtenaw County is facing up to 70 layoffs in mental health services due to a $4 million budget deficit.

County Commissioner Andy LaBarre is chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

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The state is seeking bids for pilot projects to divert mentally ill people from jails, as well as get them better treatment while in jail.

The projects will seek to address the needs of mentally ill people at every step – from arrest to after incarceration.

Steven Mays is with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

He says one thing that's needed is better training of police and guards to recognize the signs of mental illness.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Officials with the Michigan Agency for Energy and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will announce results of the state's initial review of the federal Clean Power Plan on Tuesday.

The plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by roughly 30% by the year 2030.

user Explorationofspace / Wikimedia Commons

Customer satisfaction with vehicle purchases slipped in the second quarter of the year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Managing Director David VanAmberg says people are having to take their new cars to the dealer for repairs more often, and that will take a toll on satisfaction.