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. 

IIHS

Auto sales continue to perform well in 2014, say analysts, even though one of the usual ingredients in that success is missing -- strong GDP growth.

"The economy has not necessarily cooperated yet," says Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive.  "Not to the level, that 3% level, which is typically expected to support auto sales.  And we haven't really had that."

Schuster thinks 2014 vehicle sales will end up around 16.4 million.

Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com is just slightly more optimistic.  She thinks the industry could sell 16.7 million by the end of December.

Morgue File

The Michigan Public Service Commission says there was a nearly four-fold return on utilities' energy efficiency programs in 2013.

State natural gas and electricity providers spent $253 million on programs to weatherize homes and replace inefficient water heaters, HVAC systems, and boilers with efficient models.

The MPSC report says that will save customers $948 million over the life cycle of the replacements and upgrades.

Electric utilities are required to spend 1% of retail sales on energy efficiency programs, and natural gas providers, .75%. 

Auto dealers are once again jumping on the Black Friday sales phenomenon.

Analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com says last year, dealerships and automakers offered special Black Friday incentives to lure shoppers.

The result: Car sales during Black Friday weekend were 105%  higher than the three other weekends in November.

"So it does seem as if, we started to embrace it, and then it worked so well, no surprise that this year, we expect it to work well again, says Caldwell.

SEMCOG

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to lower the allowed level of ozone from 75 to 65 to 70 parts per billion.

Ozone is a dangerous chemical that forms when sunlight and heat interact with emissions from cars, factories, and power plants.

"Even going to 70 (ppb) will be a monumental challenge for us in the region," says Joan Weidner of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). 

SEMCOG is the group which monitors ozone levels and coordinates actions to reduce ozone. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There will be extra Michigan State Police troopers on the state's highways over the Thanksgiving holiday.

This is the first year of a three-year Thanksgiving holiday effort in Michigan to reduce traffic deaths and injuries by 10%.

"We will be looking at people who might be drinking and driving," says Sgt. Jill Gleason, "for people who might be doing aggressive driving, who are not wearing their safety belts."

Gleason says the night before Thanksgiving is actually the biggest bar night of the year in Michigan, beating out New Year's Eve.

Fred Thompson / Flickr

2014 is nearly over, but we won't know how much ethanol the U.S. EPA will require to be blended into gasoline for 2014, until 2015.  The EPA announced last week it will delay issuing the standard.

The ethanol industry and refining industry are on opposite sides of the Renewable Fuels Standard debate.  The RFS requires increasing amounts of ethanol in gasoline every year, unless there are compelling economic reasons to depart from the practice.

Earlier this year, the EPA indicated it was planning to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard for the first time since 2007 – because it appeared the amount of ethanol in gasoline would have to exceed 10% – and the effect of higher ethanol blends on older engines is unclear.

The delay on issuing that standard has generated relief among corn ethanol lobbyists.

Volkswagen

Manufacturing jobs - in particular, auto manufacturing jobs - used to pay better than other types of jobs.

After 2007, that was no longer the case, according to a new analysis by the National Employment Law Project.

The trend continues to worsen.

The report finds that manufacturers earned 7.7% less than the median wage for all occupations in 2013.

More than 600,000 manufacturing workers make just $9.60 an hour, or less. 

Mr. Bologna/Flickr.com

Consumers Energy says there's plenty of natural gas.

But in the thumb of Michigan, there are not enough pipelines - and that led to an unusual request from the company on  Thursday.

Consumers asked farmers who use natural gas-fueled blowers to dry their grain to temporarily hold off on the activity during daylight hours.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop says an unusually late harvest combined with an unusually early cold snap to create the spike in demand.

Brady Hoke.
User MGoBlog / Flickr

Wolverines football coach Brady Hoke has dismissed player Frank Clark from the team.

Clark was arrested and jailed this weekend on suspicion of beating his girlfriend.

Hoke says his decision had nothing to do with increased scrutiny of domestic violence by players at the National Football League.

“I've told our guys since day one that it won't be tolerated,” Hoke said. “ Won't be tolerated in this program.”

Hoke says domestic violence is "tragic," and a national issue, and says more needs to be done to stop it.

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

Many Michigan families remain at very high risk of homelessness after the Great Recession, says an advocacy organization.

Eric Hufnagle, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, say there are things cities can do other than wait for the economy to improve – like increase the amount of affordable housing.

Hugnagle says many people who become homeless  have jobs, but the jobs don't pay enough to let them afford rent.

All Things Nav

Nineteen automakers that operate in the U.S. have agreed not to share data from cars with third parties, without the drivers' consent. 

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Auto Alliance, says cars are increasingly becoming connected to satellites, the Internet, and each other.

Those connections create a lot of personal information about where drivers go – and how they drive.

But Bergquist says people should also remember that connected cars will also bring many benefits.

Bridgewater Interiors

A new $100 million dollar loan fund will help minority-owned businesses in Detroit.

Louis Green, president of the Michigan Minority Supplier Diversity Council, says access to capital is a big problem for minority companies.

"Minority businesses are more likely to be turned down for loans," says Green. "When they get loans they're at higher interest rates, and in fact, their experience has been so bad in trying to get access to capital that  they're even less likely to apply for access to capital than non-minority businesses."

Tracy Samilton/Michigan Radio

Ford Motor Company's Dearborn truck plant is back online.

The automaker stripped the plant to its bare bones to remake it for building an aluminum F-150.

The lighter truck will get significantly better fuel economy, as well as better hauling and towing capacity.

During a media tour of the new body shop, Chief Engineer Ron Ketelhut pointed out that some things are missing –sparks, for example, and a deafening wall of noise.

Instead of welding the body together, (noisy, dirty, and hot work), the robots use rivets.

One down, about 9,000 to go.

A Flint ex-patriot's crowd-funding campaign on Indigogo raised more than $11,000 – enough to tear down one of the city's many blighted, abandoned homes.

Freelance writer Gordon Young decided to run the campaign after writing a book about Flint's severe blight problem and its attempt to revitalize itself.

commons.wikimedia.org

  Brynne Belinger is frustrated.  Really, really frustrated.

In June, Belinger found out her 2009 Impala was among the millions of cars being recalled by General Motors, many of them for ignition switch problems. 

But when she called her local dealership, she was told she'd need to wait until GM sent her an official notice of the recall. 

That letter didn't arrive until October.

Belinger called her dealership, only to receive more bad news.

"They're hoping they will get the part in four to six weeks, but what they've found is it's taking more like six to eight weeks.  And once they get the part in, it will take between two to four weeks to get me in for an appointment."

GM says vehicles with ignition switch problems can be safely driven as long as only the key is in the key ring -- no heavy objects, no extra house keys, etc., on the ring.

Belinger, a manager at Western Michigan University,  isn't buying it. 

DIA

The Detroit Institute of Arts is $1.6 million closer to its $100 million goal for its share of the Grand Bargain.

And it's also closer to having a new gallery to display its extensive collection of Japanese art.

Nineteen Japanese auto suppliers that operate in Michigan, and three Japanese trading companies, are donating a total $2,167,000.

75% of that money will go towards the DIA's Grand Bargain contribution, and 25%  will help the DIA establish a new Japanese art gallery.

Sho Ueda is head of the Japan Business Society of Detroit. 

Tracy Samilton/Michigan Radio

The former Yankee Air Museum is getting a new name, to go with its new home in part of the historic bomber plant at Willow Run.

The name, "The National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run," will likely be reduced to a nickname in common parlance over time, says consultant Mike Montgomery.

He says a lot of effort went into salvaging a part of the Willow Run plant before the rest was demolished.

Charles & Adrienne Esseltine / Flickr / Flickr

Ten Detroit families still have their own roofs over their heads, thanks to the Tricycle Collective.

The group crowdsourced money so the families could bid on the homes they were living in at a tax foreclosure auction.

Michele Oberholtzer started the collective.

Oberholtzer says until she contacted them, the families had no idea they could buy their tax-foreclosed homes – often for as little as $500.

macombpolitics.blogspot

An ad run by Democrat Bobby Mckenzie in Michigan's 11th Congressional District race won a dubious distinction recently.  The Washington Post called it "one of the most brutal attack ads you'll ever see."

"Foreclosure King David Trott has made millions foreclosing on Michigan's families," says a narrator, over a slightly ominous soundtrack.  "Trott profited from human misery as tens of thousands of Michiganders were evicted from their homes."

screen grab from HDNet clip

The city of Detroit plans to acquire 77 vacant properties from Detroit Public Schools.

In return, the city will forgive the district's $11,600,000 in debt.  From the city's press release:

Tracy Samilton/Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is moving a 250-year-old bur oak tree this weekend to make way for an expansion of the Ross School of Business.

The $400,000 cost of moving the tree will come from a $100 million donation for the expansion from philanthropist Stephen Ross.

U of M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the project will save a piece of living U of M history, "and  provide a teachable moment where we can learn about this process, because we've – at the University of Michigan – we've never moved a tree like this before."

Wikimedia

General Motors is redoubling its efforts to contact people who own cars with defective ignition switches and urge them to get the problem fixed.

The recall has given GM a black eye, after the automaker revealed in February that it knew about the defective switches for more than ten years.

A special GM compensation program has approved 29 claims, so far, for people killed or injured in accidents when the airbags did not deploy, presumably because the ignition switch moved into the "accessory" mode and shut down safety systems.

Wikimedia

General Motors made nearly $1.5 billion dollars in the third quarter. That was better than many analysts expected. 

General Motors already put most of the costs of its many recalls on the books in the first and second quarters.  So the third quarter looks much healthier by comparison. 

Strong profits in North America boosted the automaker's performance, driven by increases in truck and large SUV sales. 

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says Amerigas will refund $500,000 to 5600 customers in Michigan for overcharging them last winter.

"I think the message is real clear," Schuette said during a conference call.  "No rip offs of consumers are allowed in Michigan."

Schuette says Amerigas charged customers amount that were "grossly" in excess of what other propane companies in the state were charging. 

He says the Michigan Consumer Protection Act prohibits price gouging.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user tEdGuY49

People near Detroit's waste incinerator will soon get some relief from its foul odors.

Joy Yearout is a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General.

She says the owners agreed to install technology to reduce the smell - and that will improve the quality of life for people in Detroit.

"More and more people are moving downtown," says Yearout.  "You've got a lot of creative business owners investing and helping it grow -- and if you want to attract more employees and businesses, you've got to have a healthy and pleasant environment to work and live in."

Brian D. Hawkins / Creative Commons

Asking for money from someone in a car could soon be banned in Flint Township.    Panhandlers - and their potential benefactors in vehicles - could be fined up to $500.

Jerry Preston is chairman of the township's Begging and Solicitation Committee.

He says panhandling in the public right-of-way is unsafe, both for the occupants of the vehicles, and the panhandler.

Preston says the problem is growing exponentially. 

Panhandlers are showing up regularly at intersections and roadsides throughout the township. 

Tesla Motors

Tesla lost a battle today in its bid to sell its vehicles directly to consumers.

Governor Rick Snyder signed HB 5606 today, after fierce lobbying for and against the bill, which clarifies the language in the state's law requiring auto manufacturers to sell their cars through franchised dealerships, and not through direct sales.

Electric car company Tesla wants to use a direct-sales model for its vehicles.

The Governor said it was already illegal for a manufacturer to sell its cars directly to customers in the state of Michigan.

The three candidates running for Congress in the 11th District agreed on very little at a forum in Birmingham Monday - except the failure of the fourth candidate, businessman David Trott, to appear.

Bobby McKenzie, running as a Democrat, says he disagrees with many of the positions taken by  his opponents, "but showing up matters, and the three of us showed up. 

Mr. Trott was supposed to be here - didn't show up.  What kind of representative do you think he's gonna be?" he told a crowd at Seaholm High School.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded grants to three states - Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana - to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie.

This summer, a toxic cyanobacteria bloom shut down the water supply to the city of Toledo.  Algae and cyanobacteria thrive in high-phosphorus environments.

Much of the phosphorus comes from farms surrounding the lake.

Jamie Clover Adams is Michigan Director of Agriculture and Rural Development.

She says Michigan has only about 15% of the land near Lake Erie, but the state has to do its part.

Get ready for more potholes this upcoming spring season.
User _chrisUK / flickr.com

Last spring's potholes may be a distant memory.

But road officials warn Michigan residents to get ready for more. 

"If you're seeing patch on patch on your road, you're going to be seeing a lot of potholes this spring," says Brad Lamberg, President of the County Road Association of Michigan.

Lamberg says it wasn't just the harsh winter, but a failure to invest in road repair that has led to the current situation.

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