Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. Before beginning her journalism career, she spent time working as a legal assistant at various firms in the Ann Arbor area.

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Auto
11:44 am
Tue July 17, 2012

Detroit asked to build a car that runs on natural gas

Honda Honda

Governors of 13 states that produce natural gas are asking Detroit car companies to make them a passenger car that runs on the fuel.

Advances in a drilling technique called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are making natural gas more plentiful.

The drilling technique has plenty of environmental critics, but Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says it's safe when done properly, and he says natural gas is a better fuel than gasoline.

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Grading Michigan Schools
11:50 am
Mon July 16, 2012

Financial Tipping Point

Nov. 5, 2007
In the first of our series called Grading Michigan Schools, we start with a look at the school funding crisis affecting many districts. School administrators say they are running out of money to adequately prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

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Grading Michigan Schools
11:45 am
Mon July 16, 2012

Turning Around a Troubled School

Nov. 6, 2007
In Part Two of our Grading Michigan Schools series, we look at one of the 20 schools entering their sixth or seventh year of failing to meet federal progress benchmarks.

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Grading Michigan Schools
11:40 am
Mon July 16, 2012

Districts May Turn to Consolidation

 Nov. 7, 2007
Consolidation may help school districts save money and expand courses. But it comes at a high cost.

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Politics & Government
6:07 pm
Wed July 11, 2012

State Treasury officials brace for suspension of EM law

Deputy State Treasurer Roger Fraser says Wayne was able to fix its own financial problems following the loss of 40% of its property taxes when a Ford plant closed.
Wayne, MI

The state Supreme Court could decide soon whether a challenge to Michigan's new emergency manager law will go before voters in November.

State treasury officials are assuming that it will, and they are preparing for the worst.

Roger Fraser is Deputy State Treasurer. He oversees the work of the state's eight emergency managers.

Fraser says if a challenge to the law goes on the ballot, the state's old emergency manager law will go into effect until November.

Current emergency managers will keep their jobs, but they will no longer have the authority to suspend union contracts, which Fraser says is only done if absolutely necessary.

Fraser says a suspension of the emergency manager law puts into question the budgets that the emergency managers completed with the help of the new law. 

He also thinks things will go from bad to worse if voters repeal the law.

"Well, I think then you're gonna see more of what's happening in California," says Fraser.  "Local units will have no choice but to go to bankruptcy."

Fraser says if Michigan cities go bankrupt, it could raise interest rates for all cities' debt, as ratings agencies increase the risk associated with cities' municipal bonds.

And a city bankruptcy would put the state on the hook for paying the city's bills.

Opponents of the emergency manager law say it is undemocratic.  

There are five Michigan cities that have emergency managers right now - Highland Park, Pontiac, Ecorse, Benton Harbor, and Flint.

Three school districts are also currently run by emergency managers: Detroit Public Schools, Highland Park Schools, and Muskegon Heights Schools.

The state has entered into a consent agreements with the cities of River Rouge, Inkster, and Detroit.

The state also has a watch list for schools, counties and cities that are on the brink of requiring a financial review.

State officials are working closely with Wayne County to determine the state of its finances.

Allen Park, Hamtramck, Muskegon Heights, Royal Oak Township, Dearborn Heights, and Harper Woods are in shaky financial shape, too.  Two additional school districts are also on the list: Benton Harbor, and East Detroit.

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Grading Michigan Schools
10:27 am
Wed July 11, 2012

Learning Must Start From Birth

Nov. 13, 2007
Low-income children from disadvantaged families usually do worse in school than other children. The No Child Left Behind Act says eliminating that achievement gap is a primary goal. One preschool in Ann Arbor prepares poor children for school as early as age 2.

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Grading Michigan Schools
10:22 am
Wed July 11, 2012

Special Ed Numbers Plummet When Teachers Ask For Help Early

Nov. 14, 2007
Asking for help used to be considered a sign of failure in teaching. It's encouraged in one district. Teacher support teams have cut special education numbers in half.

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Auto
5:44 pm
Tue July 10, 2012

Chevrolet offers 'Love it or return it' to boost U.S. sales

General Motors set a global sales record for the first quarter of 2012.

But in the U.S., GM's market share dropped to a record low in the first half of the year -- 18.1 percent, according to Edmunds.com.

Now, GM's Chevrolet brand is offering a program it calls "love it or return it," to try to boost sales.  Chevy is the company's most important brand, accounting for 70 percent of its sales.

The company will let people return their new Chevy vehicles within 30 to 60 days after purchase for any reason.

The program also includes no-haggle pricing.

Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs says it potentially could help GM boost its U.S. market share. GM lost market share, as did Ford, as Honda and Toyota came roaring back in the first half of the year with ample inventories on dealer lots. Both those companies lost market share in 2011 because of the tsunami that struck Japan.

"The other thing is, it's pretty cheap for GM to do this," notes Krebs.  "Because very rarely, when another company or GM has done a program like this, does anybody bring the car back."

Krebs says it's important for GM to get potential customers into its dealerships, because, in her opinion, the company's product lineup is not getting the attention it deserves.

GM says the "love it or return it" program will help show its confidence in its products- and perhaps lure additional customers to Chevy dealerships, many of which have been extensively upgraded.

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue July 10, 2012

Retooling brake pads for salmon

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Washington and California recently adopted laws that ban all but traces of copper in automotive brake pads by the year 2021. The two states say the metal gets into watersheds and hurts endangered salmon. The decision could change the way brakes are made around the world.

Copper is a great material for brakes. It's durable, and it absorbs heat and noise. But it comes with an environmental price.

"Each time a driver uses their brakes, a small amount of the material gets worn off, and when it rains, that can be washed into streams and rivers," said Ian Wesley, who's with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

About a third of the copper in some watersheds in California and Washington State comes from brakes. And copper is not good for salmon, because it wreaks havoc with their ability to smell.

Salmon release a pheromone when they perceive a threat. Other salmon react to the scent by dropping to the bottom of the water and staying there, very still.

"When they do that, it helps them avoid the predators, but if there's even very low levels of copper in the water, they can't smell this pheromone, and they continue to swim around kind of oblivious to the danger that's nearby," said Wesley.

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Auto
5:40 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

U.S. asks WTO to step in over China tariffs on American-made cars

A Chevy dealership in Shanghai, China
Tracy Samilton Michigan Radio

The United States has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China over tariffs on U.S.-made vehicles.

The Obama administration says China unfairly placed duties of up to 22 percent on U.S.-made vehicles that are exported to China.

The tariffs apply to larger passenger cars and SUVs.

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Business
6:33 pm
Tue July 3, 2012

Weather Channel buys Weather Underground

The Weather Underground is now a part of the Weather Channel.

The Weather Underground began in 1995 as a tiny operation of four people from the University of Michigan. It has since grown to a staff of about 50.

President Alan Steremberg says being part of the Weather Channel will give his company more resources to develop new products like apps and videos.

He says both companies will benefit from pooling their scientific resources.

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Auto
5:42 pm
Tue July 3, 2012

Collision warnings in cars work: IIHS study

A new study suggests that most new technologies to reduce car crashes are effective.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found claims went down seven percent for vehicles that sound a warning to alert drivers of an imminent crash.

There was a fourteen-percent reduction in claims for cars that automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision.

The Institute's David Zuby  says that's a significant reduction.

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Auto sales
5:32 pm
Tue July 3, 2012

No surprise, June auto sales were good. Surprise, they were better than we thought

Robust U.S. auto sales have been helping to keep a floor on the U.S. economy for months, and they kept up the good work in June.

Car sales surpassed the expectations of many analysts.   

The good news included Detroit car companies.  Ford sales rose 7% and Chrysler sales jumped 20% compared to June a year ago.

General Motors sales increased nearly 16%.

GM's Kurt McNeil says he expects a good second half of the year, too.

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Economy
5:31 pm
Wed June 27, 2012

MARVIN needs a tune-up, say unemployed workers

Advocates for the unemployed say the state has some big problems with its unemployment system.

Amy Tilchen is with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Project.

She says many people complain they can't get through to the state's automated telephone certification system, nicknamed "MARVIN." 

That's short for Michigan's Automated Response Voice Interactive Network... 

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Auto
6:06 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Ford's Mark Fields: production constraints to ease by year-end

Ford Motor Company is hitting most of its financial targets these days.

The Detroit automaker is profitable; last year it restored dividends to shareholders; and recently, the company's stock climbed back to investment grade.

But Ford will miss one key target in 2012.  The company will lose market share this year, rather than gain it, as company executives predicted last year. 

Market share is a car company's percentage of total car sales.    

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Auto
10:56 am
Fri June 15, 2012

New Schedules Push Graveyard Shift Off The Clock

A worker builds cars on the assembly line at Ford's Chicago Assembly plant, which has adopted the "three crew" work schedule. The new third shift can increase efficiency in factories, but it can also wreak havoc on sleep needs and home lives.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 10:54 pm

As car companies struggle to meet growing demand, the third shift is making a comeback. But many factories running on three shifts are doing it differently from in the past. And that new "three crew" shift pattern could make what's normally a hard job even harder.

At Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.

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Auto
2:03 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

GM shareholder meeting today amid sagging stock numbers

The track of GM stock prices since the IPO in November in 2010.
screen grab WSJ MarketWatch

Update 2:03 p.m.

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson told stockholders at today's annual meeting that "he regrets GM's stock hasn't done well." GM's stock price is hovering around $22 a share.  

That's a big drop from 2010, when GM held an initial public offering and the stock sold at about $33 a share.

"I mean it's great we had a good year last year, why is the stock down? Because there's uncertainty into the future.  The most obvious is, uh, Europe," said Akerson.

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Education
5:58 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

Pontiac Schools avoids state takeover

State officials say they won't recommend a financial review team for the Pontiac School District.

That's after the District implemented a deficit elimination plan.

A financial review team would have put the district one step closer to a state takeover. 

It could also have meant a longer delay in getting April and May payments from the state. Those were withheld as required by law during the preliminary review of the district's finances. 

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Auto
5:43 pm
Wed June 6, 2012

Honda Fit's 82-mile range leads the pack

Honda is back in the battery electric car business.

The company's Fit EV is rated as having the longest range of any electric vehicle sold in the U.S. so far. 

Federal regulators say the Fit EV can go about 82 miles on a fully charged battery. 

That's six miles more than the electric Focus and nine more than the Nissan Leaf. 

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Transportation
6:00 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

Bus ridership up - except in Detroit

Several cities in Michigan saw large increases in bus ridership in the first quarter of this year.

But the state's largest city saw a decline.

Bus ridership on "The Rapid" jumped 12% in the Grand Rapids metro area. 

Spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk says more people use the bus when gas prices go up.

But she says The Rapid also has more buses running at night now, and running later at night.  That increase in service began in January, after residents approved a new millage last year.

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