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. 

Airbags have saved thousands of lives since their introdution, but Takata's airbags are potentially deadly when they deploy
Bee Forks / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Automakers have added another 12 million cars to a massive recall involving defective airbags.

Takata-made airbags can inflate with too much force and explode. Shrapnel from the devices has killed 13 people, 10 of those in the United States. More than 100 people have been injured.

The total number recalled over the defect is now about 36 million cars in the U.S. and 70 million globally. 

Twelve of the fatal accidents have occurred in Honda vehicles. One death occurred in a Ford pickup in Georgia in December, 2015.

The red lines show where Enbridge's Line 5 crosses Lake Michigan.
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

People who want Enbridge Energy's Line 5 shut down plan to make it an issue at next week's policy conference on Mackinac Island.

The oil pipeline runs under the Straits of Mackinac, near the island.

Enbridge Energy is the company responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S history, which happened when the company's Line 6B ruptured near Marshall, Michigan in 2010. 

The massive oil spill dismayed a lot of people, including Republican State Sen. Rick Jones. He says Michigan can't risk having a spill in the Great Lakes.

surgical instrument tray
wikimedia / creative commons

Last fall, operating room nurses at Ann Arbor's Veterans Administration hospital began noticing little specks of particulate matter in surgical instrument trays.

The specks meant that surgery had to be rescheduled or canceled, if a speck-free replacement tray was unavailable. 

Initially attributed solely to a water main break, months later, some surgeries are still being canceled due to particulate matter on the trays, despite the hospital taking a number of steps.

Eric Young is acting director of the Ann Arbor VA. 

West Park, Ann Arbor
matth / public domaine

State environmental officials say 35 private wells on or near Rose Drive in Ann Arbor had no detectable level of 1,4 dioxane after testing water samples.

It's a little bit of good news in the ongoing saga of Ann Arbor's dioxane-contaminated groundwater. 

A plume of water contaminated with the dangerous chemical is slowly moving under the city towards the Huron River.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, by executive order, has re-established the state's commission focusing on reducing lead poisoning among children.

The previous commission was disbanded in 2006 because the state legislature did not renew the statute that created it.

The commission will have a statewide focus.

Snyder says the new commission will focus on the elimination, rather than prevention, of lead poisoning. 

He says the commission will present its report by November, 2016.

motorcycle
Pixabay

An annual report by the Governor's Highway Safety Association finds that motorcyclist traffic fatalities rose 10% across the nation between 2014 and 2015, and the increase was substantially greater in Michigan.

Fatal motorcycle accidents rose 23% in Michigan.

Co-author Richard Retting says there could be many factors responsible, including better weather in 2015, along with more vehicles of all kinds on the highways.

But he says Michigan's repeal of its mandatory motorcycle helmet law in 2012 very likely was a factor, too.

2016 GMC Acadia
GM

General Motors says it overstated the fuel economy for three crossovers by 1 to 2 miles per gallon, but says it was a mistake, not an intent to deceive customers. 

The "inadvertent error" means GM overestimated the fuel economy of 170,000 2016 Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave vehicles by about 10%.

GM says the mistake happened when it installed new emissions-related hardware in the cars. New mileage stickers have been issued, and owners are being notified.

Hemingway home
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Ernest Hemingway spent his boyhood summers in Michigan, and the last 20 years of his life in Cuba. 

Today, Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home, is undergoing a major renovation, overseen by a Michigan construction company known for its historic renovation work.

A string quartet
creative commons

Twenty-nine chamber music ensembles face off this week at the University of Michigan's first M-Prize competition.

Founder Aaron Dworkin says it's a major chamber music competition, both in terms of the number of groups competing and the size of the prize: $100,000.

Dworkin says he hopes to draw attention to how chamber music is evolving. He says it's not just a strings ensemble, or winds.

"You might have euphonium, harp, oboe and spoken word," says Dworkin, "and all acoustic, or are there any parts of that ensemble that engage electronics."

2017 Ford GT
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company received 6,506 applications during its one-month window for people who want to own a 2017 GT supercar. 

But there will only be 500 lucky owners. And it's not first-come, first-serve.

Ford will select who gets one of the cars, giving preference to people who've owned a GT, for example, or those who have a "strategic alliance" with Ford, or – most importantly – people who can generate buzz for the Ford brand.

To boost their chances, quite a few GT hopefuls included videos with their applications. 

Surgery in a Cuban hospital
Michigan State University

Health care is considered a human right in Cuba, and it's free. The country spends far less than the U.S. on health care, yet Cubans have the same life expectancy as Americans.
 
But after students from Michigan State University's medical school were embedded in Cuban clinics and hospitals, they discovered the situation there is ... complicated. 

Let's look at the good aspects of Cuba's system first.

In Cuba, the focus is on primary care, prevention and early treatment

Mercedes Mejia

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton and I were in Havana to cover the connections between Cuba and Michigan and opportunities for the future.

The Michigan Agribusiness Association has been wooing Cuban officials for years now, hoping to sell Michigan-grown produce in a new market.  

wikimedia/creative commons

In 2007, Gordon Food Service of Wyoming, Michigan settled charges of sex discrimination in hiring for entry-level labor jobs at its Grand Rapids and Brighton warehouses.

This year, the company has agreed to pay $1.85 million in back wages and benefits to women denied jobs at those and other warehouses because they couldn't pass a strength test, which the government says was more stringent than the actual  job requirements. In addition, the department says at least one male employee who'd been working at Gordon Foods for over two years failed the test.

Mercedes Mejia

When you think of Cuban exports, you probably think, cigars, sugar, and rum.  But Cuba exports something of much greater value to third-world countries:  doctors.  Cuba has trained 23,000 foreign physicians for free at the Latin American School of Medicine near Havana. 

Dearborn F150 factory
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Ford Motor Company of Dearborn on Thursday reported a record first quarter profit of $2.5 billion, far exceeding analysts' expectations.

General Motors had a good first quarter too, reporting $2 billion in profit, and Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler made $540 million.

All three companies are benefiting from the boom in U.S. sales of SUVs and pickup trucks. 

Gasoline prices remain low, and automakers have made great strides improving fuel economy  for larger vehicles. 

oil field
wikipedia

Eric Kort was looking for methane when he and his team flew a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft over the Bakken formation in May, 2014.

What the University of Michigan climate researcher found was ethane. Lots and lots of ethane.

Kort says the air sample data he collected has solved a mystery. Wwhat caused global ethane emissions to rise between 2009 and 2014, after a significant decline prior to 2009?

Finca Marta organic farm in Cuba
Finca Marta

Michigan agriculture businesses are intrigued by the prospect of doing business in Cuba, after the Obama administration re-established formal ties with the island nation.  

Cuba also sees the U.S. as a potential new market.  

But there are still many obstacles standing in the way of increased agricultural trade.  One of them is the low productivity on the typical Cuban small farm.

Ford worker, Livonia Assembly
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company's investment of $1.4 billion will upgrade its Livonia Transmission plant to build a new, more fuel-efficient 10-speed transmission for some models of F-150 trucks.  

At the same time, Ford is also building a new factory in Mexico, part of a strategy to build SUVs and trucks in the U.S. and cars in Mexico. 

The UAW doesn't like that strategy, but Ford points out it still employs more than 55,000 hourly workers in the U.S.  That's more than any other automaker in the country.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Tourism has exploded in Cuba since the Obama administration announced a resumption of diplomatic relations with the country in 2014.

Danilo Gomez is a law professor and, as is very common in Havana, is also employed in the tourist industry. He moonlights as a tour guide. Gomez says tourism has nearly doubled since the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, because Westerners want to see Cuba “before the Americans ruin it.”  A million people a year used to visit Cuba, he says.  Now it’s close to two million.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

 

Cuba’s heralded health care system has been mobilized to stop the Zika virus from gaining a foothold in the country, and so far, the campaign appears to be a success.

The virus is spread by Aedes Aegypti,  the same species of mosquito that spreads dengue, a painful and often debilitating illness.

Cuban officials have ordered mandatory fumigation of every apartment and house to kill the mosquitos.  Our own apartment in Havana was fumigated today.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Resourceful does not even begin to describe Cubans.  There is not enough of anything in Cuba – food, money, freedom.  So they make the most of what they have.  They call it “luchando,” which means fighting the good fight, managing despite long odds.

Individual Cubans can sell you just about anything more cheaply than the Cuban government can.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Mercedes Mejia and I have been in Cuba for four days, long enough to have ridden a bus, taken a shared taxi, used the local currency, interviewed many Cubans, eaten some quite good meals, and formed a few impressions.  Here are a few of mine.

Feeling a little of Flint’s pain in Cuba

Everybody, no matter how brave their character, agrees one must not drink the tap water in Cuba. It is treated with chemicals, but I’m told it still has microbes that an American stomach would find most objectionable.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

I was still getting my bearings after arriving in Havana, when I spotted a chicken wandering the street. Nobody was chasing it with a frying pan. It seemed sure of itself, as if it considered itself no different from the human passersby. 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

When President Obama announced a resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in the fall of 2014, we kept our eyes and ears open for possible Michigan-Cuban stories to tell.

It didn’t take long to discover there are quite a few.  The Michigan Agribusiness Association has been wooing Cuban officials for years now, hoping to sell Michigan-grown produce in a new market.  You want black beans, Cuba?  We got your black beans in Michigan.

Pixabay

It’s no secret Cuba is hot.

Tourism is up 15% since just last year, when the Obama and Castro administrations announced an historic rapprochement.

This article by Oliver Wainwright describes “droves” of people visiting Havana.  He writes, “it can now be hard to move for the throngs of package tour groups.”

Consumers Energy / Flickr/user

Seven of Consumers Energy's oldest and smallest coal-burning power plants will shut down for good on April 15.

They're being shut down to comply with an order to reduce mercury emissions.

Spokesman Brian Wheeler says the shutdown is expected to be smooth.

"Power plants obviously do go on and offline at different times," says Wheeler.  "Sometimes plants get shut down for maintenance.  So the shutdown process  isn't that difficult, but once they're closed for sure by April 15th, they won't come back."

People voting.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor Public Schools will close on May 3, an election day.

Many schools are polling places, and Superintendent Jeanice Swift says there are concerns about people coming into unlocked buildings to vote.

Swift says Ann Arbor is not alone in grappling with the issue.

"It is on the minds of districts across the state and around the country, " she says.

Swift says some districts have elected to use election days as professional development days, and Ann Arbor may do the same, or the city may decide to find other places for people to vote.

creative commons - public domain / Pixabay

Michigan's labor participation rate has improved, according to Gongwer News Service.

The rate is 61.2%, compared to 60% in 2012.

Labor participation is tracked for all adults age 16 to 86, and includes those who are employed or actively seeking work.

Jim Robey is an economist with the Upjohn Institute. He says one reason for the uptick may be the lure of higher wages.

The average wage for a production worker rose by a dollar an hour between 2013 and 2016.

pixabay

A jury has awarded no damages in the second of six bellwether cases against General Motors related to its ten-year delay of a recall of cars with faulty ignition switches.

The bellwether trials are intended to help courts around the country try to settle hundreds of similar cases, which allege physical or financial damages due to the defective switches.

The jury found that the plaintiff, who was not seriously injured in the accident, lost control of her car because of icy conditions, not because of the faulty switch. 

DTE Energy

DTE  will build a solar power array on 10 acres of vacant land in Detroit. 

The utility says it will be one of the largest urban solar power projects in the country, producing enough electricity to power about 450 homes. 

The array will be located at the former O'Shea Park, near I-96 and Greenfield Road. 

The utility will pay the city $1 million over 20 years to lease the land, and the deal also requires DTE to develop a new community park, and provide STEM education, workforce development and energy efficiency programs to benefit the local community.

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