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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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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Auto
5:52 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

A-123 hires, then fires, then hires again

Michigan lithium-ion battery company is hiring again - after slashing its workforce last year.

A-123 says it plans to hire up to 400 people in the next few months.[A-123 has one factory in Romulus and one in Livonia.   The advanced batteries are used in cars, trucks, and buses, as well as large storage units for the electric power grid.

Jobs at the company peaked at about a thousand, but several hundred jobs were cut last year as orders fell.

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Transportation
1:15 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Canadian rail workers might be forced back to work

user Eja2k wikimedia commons

The Canadian Parliament is close to passing a bill to force striking railway workers in Canada back to work.  The Canadian Pacific rail strike threatens to disrupt the flow of many key auto parts into the U.S. The legislation would require workers to return to the job later this week.  The Canadian Teamsters union plans to protest this afternoon at the nation's capital in Ottawa.

Auto
2:28 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

Canadian railway strike could affect U.S. automakers

Ian Britton creative commons

A strike by Canadian railway workers threatens to slow or shut down production at some U.S. auto plants.

5,000 Canadian Pacific Railway workers walked off the job early Wednesday because of a dispute with management over a new contract.

Large numbers of finished vehicles and auto parts come to U.S. factories via Canadian Pacific.

Ford and General Motors say they don't expect the strike to affect production - at this time.

Chrysler says it is actively working to mitigate any impact to its operations through alternative shipment methods, such as trucks.

The longer the strike goes, the greater the chance it could affect the U.S. auto industry.  The Canadian Labor Ministry says it has the authority to intervene and will do that if the two sides haven't reached a deal by Monday.

Auto
10:47 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Chrysler boosts sales with subprime borrowers

Chrysler-Group flickr

Chrysler's new car sales have been improving faster than almost any other car company in the U.S. in recent months.

But the company has also been relying on subprime borrowers more than almost any other car company.

That's according to Edmunds.com.

People with good credit can usually find a car loan with a four percent interest rate.

But a growing number of Chrysler's customers have poor credit - and their loans have 10 percent interest rates.

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell says it's definitely boosting Chrysler's sales, but there are risks.

"I think subprime can tarnish your image in a way," she says.  "If you have a high percentage of subprime borrowers, people start to catch on or think that perhaps your brand isn't as prestigious as you would want to think it is."

Even though subprime car loans are riskier, there is still a relatively low rate of default.

People are much more likely to default on a subprime house loan than a subprime car loan. 

Auto
8:37 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Ford gets investment-grade credit rating, blue oval back

To mark the return of the Ford Blue Oval and investment grade status, Bill Ford, Jr. joined over 1000 employees outside of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn to form a human Blue Oval.
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company has its "Blue Oval" back, after a second ratings firm upgraded Ford to "investment grade."

The trademark and other assets were put up as collateral for loans in 2006. Those loans got the company through the recession and a restructuring without a bankruptcy.

Bill Ford, Junior is the Board's Executive Chairman, and the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He says it's a "once in a lifetime" event.

"When we pledged the Blue oval it was enormously emotional for me and my family," Ford said. "Because we weren't just pledging an asset, we were pledging our heritage."

The ratings upgrade means Ford will likely have a larger pool of bond investors. The company will also have lower borrowing costs.

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Memorial Day
10:29 am
Tue May 22, 2012

GM group to honor U.S. military fallen today

Alan Crosthwaite

General Motors' Customer Care and Aftersales (CCA) Veterans Affinity Group (VAG) will honor U.S. Military personnel who lost their lives in Afghanistan at the first annual "Field of "Flags" event.

The formal semi-military event, featuring U.S. Navy Color Guard members and Military Buglers, will be held Tuesday, May 22 from 1:00-2:00 p.m., at the GM CCA Willow Run Complex located at 50000 Ecorse Road, Belleville, Mich., 48111. The event is also in conjunction with the GM UAW local 174.

"The Field of Flags event leading up to Memorial Day is another way we can honor their commitment and say thank you to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families for their courage, service and sacrifice," said Steve Hill, GM North America Vice President of CCA and GM's corporate champion for the group. "This is a grassroots event sponsored by our employees, who have a passion for this cause, and spend their own time to demonstrate their support and respect for the U.S. Military."

Approximately 2,000 flags will be planted in a field on the lawn of the facility. The ceremony will include the raising of an American flag flown over Afghanistan, the playing of "The National Anthem" and "America the Beautiful," the reading of the "Field of Flags" declaration, remarks by guest speaker Steve Hill, a special CCA VAG presentation, the planting of the final flag and a memorial wreath, the ringing of a ships bell honoring service members lost, Taps, and the presentation of the flag flown over Afghanistan.

GM's VAG Customer Care and Aftersales, headquarters in Grand Blanc, conducts fundraising activities to support GM employees who are U.S Military Veterans, in the Reserves or National Guard. To date, the group has raised $20,000 for Piquette Square, a non-profit organization in Detroit that helps homeless veterans. Additionally, it provides support through various activities such as sending care packages and phone cards troops abroad.

"Our group's overriding objective is to take care of the military men and women who take care of us," said Don Gore, president of the Customer Care and Aftersales VAG Chapter. "I am proud of the job our team has done, which has resulted in overwhelming support for veterans, deployed military and fellow employee reservists."

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Welcoming Michigan
11:54 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Making Michigan more welcoming

A new group plans to encourage four Michigan communities to welcome their new immigrants.

Christine Sauve is with "Welcoming Michigan."  She says many times, when new groups of people begin to move into a neighborhood, there is little effort by the existing residents to get to know them.  But she says it doesn't have to be that way, and it's certainly less than ideal.

One community involved in the project is Hamtramck, which began as a Polish immigrant town.

Now, people from Bangladesh and Yemen are moving in.

"The different groups kind of stick to themselves a little bit," says Sauve.  "So we're trying to get people to know each other and learn about the other groups that are in the community and a lot of them share - they have a lot in common."

Other communities include Hartford, in West Michigan, which has a large group of Latino migrant workers, Sterling Heights, which has new Iraqi immigrants, and the Chadsey-Condon neighborhood in Detroit.

Chadsey-Condon has historically been African American, but it now also has Yemeni and Latino immigrants.

Sauve  says Welcoming Michigan will sponsor dinners, community dialogues and other events.

Health
3:40 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

State legislators still resist health care exchange

The Obama administration has given new leeway to states to choose their level of involvement in running health care exchanges. States are required to create the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

The exchanges will allow individuals and small businesses to shop for health care plans.

Ari Adler is the press secretary for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger.

He says Bolger doesn't plan to move forward on the exchanges until the Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act.

"If we are put in a position where we have to have some sort of health exchange, " says Adler, " [Bolger] is willing to work with the governor and others to put something in place at the state level -- so we do not have the federal government coming in and controlling our health care in Michigan."

Governor Snyder says he wants the Legislature to send him a bill that would create an exchange. He's said waiting too long could leave Michigan vulnerable to missing the federal deadline for creating the exchanges.

He's directed some staff to do preliminary work on setting up an exchange. That work includes creating a database of possible health care plans, and reviewing software programs that other states are developing.

Earlier this year, Michigan Radio's Jennifer White sat down with Helen Levy, a Research Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research who worked with President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in 2011.

White talked with Levy about how health insurance exchanges work and  what health care options they may provide to individuals.

Take a listen to their conversation below or read a transcript here.

 

Auto
5:11 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Electronic stability control proposed for big rigs

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may soon require big rigs and other large trucks to have electronic stability control systems.

The technology could prevent a lot of accidents and rollovers. 

NHTSA already requires electronic stability control systems on passenger cars. The systems are able to automatically apply the brake on individual wheels. 

It's estimated electronic stability control reduces accidents where the driver loses control of the car by at least 40%.  There could be a similar benefit for big rigs, busses and other large trucks.

Russ Rader is with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"The technology is available, it's not expensive, and we should get it on large trucks."

NHTSA says a rule could become final within two to four years. 

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute estimates at least 4,600 truck accidents could be prevented if electronic stability control were required, and at least 126 lives saved per year.

Environment & Science
6:24 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Signature collecting begins in earnest for anti-fracking petition drive

People who oppose a form of oil and gas drilling known as "fracking" are officially launching a petition drive to ban the practice in Michigan.

"Horizontal hydraulic fracturing" uses slant drilling to inject chemicals or water into rocks to fracture them, in order to extract oil or natural gas.

LuAnne Kozma is the campaign's director.

She says fracking uses toxic chemicals that can contaminate the water.

"Another huge concern is this deadly toxic gas called hydrogen sulfide gas, or H2S."

A spokesman for a company with exploratory wells in Michigan says the state has some of the most rigorous safety regulations in the nation for fracking.

Petition organizers must get more than 322,000 signatures by July 9, to get the issue on the November ballot.

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Health/economy
6:21 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Allegiance soon to be Jackson's first teaching hospital

The city of Jackson is getting its first teaching hospital.

Allegiance Hospital will soon start accepting medical students and residents to train them for their future practices.

Dr.  John Lake is Allegiance's Program Director for Family Medicine.

He says the hospital's start up costs could run into the millions of dollars - but it will be worth it, because being a teaching hospital keeps instructing physicians "on their game," and having residents improves patient care.

"There will be time to spend with patients to explain a lot of things to them," says Lake, "And I think (in) more of a depth than we would normally have time for because (the residents) will be there 24/7."

Lake thinks having a teaching hospital will also be good for Jackson, providing a spark to the local economy.

He says about 20% of doctors end up practicing where they do their residency.

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Sports
4:00 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Poll: Pay-to-play puts sports out of reach for many

Mitch Loeber flickr

A new poll finds that even kids from some middle-income families are cutting back on sports, because of "pay to play" fees in middle and high schools. According to the poll, conducted by Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, a majority of schools now charge students a fee to play sports.

One in five families earning $60,000 a year or less said their kids participated less in sports because of "pay-to-play" fees. The drop in participation was even greater for families earning between $30,000 and $60,000.

Researcher Sarah Clark, Associate Director of the National Poll on Children’s Health, says schools might want to consider installment payments to ease the burden.

"I personally have heard some parents talking about how difficult it is to come up with all that money all at once, where, if they could stagger it out, it might be a little easier to do," said Clark.

Clark says only six percent of families reported getting the fees waived.

She says sports participation helps kids improve their grades and their health, and it can help keep them from dropping out of school.

Business
5:46 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Ally Bank to sell some assets, place another in bankruptcy, to pay off taxpayers

Detroit's Ally Bank, formerly known as GMAC, says it will sell off foreign subsidiaries and put its mortgage division into bankruptcy, in an attempt to pay back its government bailout.

The U.S. Treasury gave more than $17 billion to GMAC when it bailed out GM.

The money was meant to prevent the collapse of loan availability for GM vehicles and GM dealers.

So far, GMAC, now Ally Bank, has paid back $ 5.5 billion.   

But it was unclear how the company would pay back the rest. Its mortgage arm loses money every quarter on subprime mortgage loans made before the bank crisis of 2008.

Now Ally says it will put its mortgage division into bankruptcy, and sell off foreign subsidiaries.   The company says that will allow it to repay a total of 2/3 of what it owes the Treasury before the end of the year, leaving a balance of about $6 billion. 

Ally officials say they will provide bankruptcy financing for the mortgage arm, known as Res Cap, and strike a financial deal with the company's creditors, so that Ally can come out of the mortgage division's bankruptcy with no additional liabilities.

Auto
5:38 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

German auto parts company to expand in Michigan

A German auto parts company says it will open a third plant in Michigan.

Brose North America -- Brose is pronounced "Brose-uh" -- says Governor Rick Snyder's recent trade mission to Germany is part of the reason. 

Snyder visited Italy and Germany during a trade mission in March. 

Brose officials say talks about a Michigan expansion began "in earnest" during the Governor's visit to the company's facilities in Wurzburg, Germany.

Brose says it plans to buy a former Chrysler Mopar plant in New Boston near Detroit, to meet new demand in North America for seating and doors, after winning new contracts with Chrysler and Ford. 

The company expects to hire an additional 450 people in the next five years to work at the new plant and Brose's two other factories in Auburn Hills and Warren.  

Investigative
6:42 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Windsor residents demand a stop to noise from Zug Island in U.S.

Thousands of people in Windsor, Ontario, say they are being invaded by an obnoxious noise emanating from outside Detroit. They call it the "Windsor Hum" and it's really two sounds — a deep, very low-frequency hum, like a diesel truck idling in your driveway, and a deep, vibrating pulse that you feel more than you hear.

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Auto/Economy
10:15 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Fast-charging charging system could reduce "range anxiety" for electric cars

Ford Motor Company has teamed up with seven other car companies to develop a faster method of recharging electric cars.

Fast-charging could help reduce the problem of what some call "range anxiety." 

One drawback of an electric car is how long it takes to recharge the battery - up to 7 hours for some electric cars. And if you push the car to its range limit you risk being stranded; that causes range anxiety. 

Mike Tinskey is associate director of vehicle electrification at Ford. He says it's hoped that eventually, "We can get to a point when we can charge just as quick as you can fuel up a conventional car with gasoline."

The new system isn't that fast, but it's a lot faster than charging on a 120 or 240 volt outlet. 

It will take about 20 minutes to get an 80% charge on a depleted electric car battery .

Other companies involved in developing the new system are Audi, BMW N.A., Chrysler, Daimler, General Motors, Porsche, and Volkswagen ...

Politics
6:03 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

John Dingell to seek 30th term in the U.S. House

The Dean is not ready to retire.

John Dingell is the longest-serving member of the U.S. House in history.

And he wants to serve even longer.

Dingell announced he'll run for a 30th term in Congress, representing the new 12th District of Michigan, which includes parts of Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

The 86-year old Dingell walks and stands with difficulty, using a cane, and he also relies on a hearing aid.

But he says his health is great, he still works 14 to 16 hour days, and he has too much left to accomplish to think about retiring.

"I tell you, I have never figured out how to not worry about the concerns that my people have," Dingell told a small crowd in Ann Arbor.

The press conference was held directly in front of a construction site for the new Stadium bridge, for which Dingell helped secure $17 million in state and federal funds.

He is facing a Democratic challenger in the August primary.

26-year-old Daniel Marcin is a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan.

Marcin served as Treasurer for a year for the Graduate Employees Organization, a student union at the University of Michigan.

But he has not held an elected public office.

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