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. 

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.

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit over bus stops at Detroit Metro Airport.

Disability activists filed the lawsuit when the airport moved the location of the bus stop at the McNamara Terminal.

The lawsuit said people in wheelchairs would now have to wait for buses in the cold because of the move.

Airport spokesman Michael Conway says the move was necessary because increased traffic had made the old location unsafe.  He says some buses were having to stop in the far left lane from the curb.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a lot of Twitter followers.  1, 128,869 to be exact.

On Thursday, Musk sent a link on Twitter to a Tesla blog entry that urges people to ask Michigan Governor Rick Snyder not to sign a bill that requires cars to be sold through franchised dealerships.

Tesla wants to sell its cars directly, in company-owned stores.

So, has the Governor's office gotten many calls?  "Only about 900,000," quipped a spokesman.

The spokesman also says the Governor has "a bunch" of questions about the bill and is doing due diligence.

FCA

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles made its New York stock exchange debut on Monday, beginning trading at $9 a share, and closing at $9.02.

Not bad, for a tumultuous day on Wall Street, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell a full 1.6%.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and FCA Chairman John Elkann rang the closing bell together - after giving a joint press conference.

Most of the questions and answers were in Italian.  So, it looks like I'm going to have to learn Italian if I want to continue to cover FCA.

Wayne County

Wayne County commissioners voted Thursday to reject one option for the next jail:  moving the courts and the jail to the former Mound Correctional Facility.

Commissioner Richard LeBlanc says the $750 million price tag was far too high.

But LeBlanc doesn't like any of the remaining options either.

That includes the one favored by many of his fellow commissioners:  restarting the halted jail construction project at Gratiot in downtown.

Charles & Adrienne Esseltine / Flickr

 

The Detroit region may still have plenty of housing woes.  But a new report issued by RealtyTrac indicates that for a good number of people living in the area, the housing market is recovering.

RealtyTrac issued its first-ever report on home equity loans this week.   Consumers take out loans using their home equity as collateral.   Typically people spend the money on home remodeling projects.

Nationally, home equity loans rose nearly 21% in the past year.  In Detroit, home equity loans rose 59.3%.

AAA

"Hands on the wheel and eyes on the road" is the rule of thumb often touted by U.S. automakers as the best way to stay safe on the road.

But the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says people's minds have to be on the road, too, and the often complicated, hands-free voice systems in many cars are too distracting.

Central Power Plant, Ann Arbor, MI
Press Release Distribution / prlog.org

A new study states that Michigan is one of five states that would see the most public health benefits from the EPA's proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. 

Tracy Samilton

Michigan Congressman Kerry Bentivolio is flying back to Michigan from D.C. to file with the Secretary of State as a write-in candidate.

Bentivolio lost the Republican primary to businessman David Trott in August.

Bentivolio says he's not running because he thinks he'll win. He's running to help out a friend – Republican Terri Lynn Land.

Land is behind in the polls against Democrat Gary Peters in the U.S. Senate race.

Bentivolio says many constituents have told him they don't like Trott, so they'll sit out the race rather than vote.

General Motors

Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Jr. has long been a leader on the issue of climate change.

He was the first executive of a major auto company to call for global action on the threat, more than 15 years ago.

So it may come as a surprise that his company did so poorly on this year's CDP S&P 500 Climate Change Report.

The group gives Ford a "D" for the actions it is taking to prepare for climate change. 

Here's another thing that may come as a surprise: 

Debtors' prisons were abolished long ago, but the ACLU of Michigan says some district judges in Michigan never got the memo.

ACLU attorney Sofia Nelson says a recent case shows just how wrong things can go for people who can't afford to pay their fines.

Victim went to jail instead of a domestic violence shelter

In September, Nelson says a Port Huron woman fled to her local emergency room after her boyfriend threatened her with a gun.   

Tracy Samilton

The virgin Astroturf is springy underfoot, and the neon yellow goalposts stretch up into the blue September sky. The Comets should be playing well.

They're not.

After seven years of away games, the football team at Cody High School in Detroit has its own field. The facility at Cody was in such terrible shape that they couldn't play there.

That changed Friday night. Unfortunately, the Comets'  homecoming did not start well.

Michigan State University

It sounds like science fiction - but robotic fish are here, and their high-tech capabilities are helping scientists pursue some vexing questions.

Michigan State University researchers have received funding for a new project using robofish, to figure out how native lake trout are rebounding, after decades of decline.

Xiaobo (pronounced shaw-bo] Tan is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

He says the robofish don't look like fish so much as they do gliders -- they have wings, and a tail --

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.

University of Michigan football game
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.

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.

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."

2007 Cobalt, one of the recalled models
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.

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.

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.

(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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