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. 

Ann Arbor may soon hand out tickets for leaving a car idling. 

Proponents of the ordinance say car idling adds to pollution and wastes energy. 

The ban wouldn't apply to cars sitting in traffic.  But Ann Arbor Energy Commission Chair Wayne Appleyard says a lot of times, people are idling their cars unnecessarily.

staff / media.ford.com

Detroit Edison is taking the next step toward an electric car future. The electricity provider will power some of its own fleet using electricity.

Some of Detroit Edison's service calls will now be made by technicians driving Ford Transit Connect electric vans.

The van's range is about 80 miles - that's enough for an average day's worth of calls, says Detroit Edison President Steven Kurmas.

 Kurmas says more of the vans may be added to the fleet later.

More jobs building batteries could be on the way at A-1-2-3’s factory in Livonia.  The company just won a big contract with General Motors. 

A-123 builds batteries for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.  

The company recently hired its thousandth employee at the Livonia plant, and the new contract will likely mean more jobs in the future, perhaps hundreds more jobs.   

But General Motors is not revealing anything about the kind of vehicles it will put the A-123 batteries in, or where those vehicles will be sold. 

General Motors executives says the company is becoming less complicated, and less wasteful, than it was in the past.   

GM CEO Dan Akerson says that simplicity -- along with a "fortress" balance sheet, and a lower cost structure will help GM break even in bad times, and make money in good times. 

Akerson and other top executives gave investors an in-depth briefing of the company's post-bankruptcy progress and plans for the long-term future.

GM has reduced its brands in the U.S to four, will focus on Chevrolet and Cadillac as its primary global brands, and will use regional brands such as Opel to help the company compete in specific markets like Germany.

GM's drastically reduced debt load also frees the company to follow through with product plans.  In the past, the company had to abandon car programs during recessions because of the pressing need to make debt payments.

"We think, just on cancelled product programs, we’ve probably blown a billion dollars a year in the last few years, as a result of having to pull back from things we’d already started," said Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann.

GM regained its number one global sales position in the first six months of this year.  But Akerson says being number one is not the goal.

He says GM must make the customer the first priority.  And GM will focus on profitability, not market share.

GM's head of global marketing Joel Ewanick said GM will also set its sights on a new "stretch" challenge: being the first automaker to get one of its brands on the list of the top twenty-five most recognized global brands. 

That list includes a number of U.S. brands, including Apple and Coca-Cola.  But no car company's brand has yet made it onto the list.

About 100 people will “start their engines,” at the Michigan International Speedway this week. But it won’t be for a race. The MIS is lending its track to the U.S. Department of Transportation to test vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

Connected vehicle technology allows cars to communicate with other cars and the road.

Devices installed in a car warn a driver that a crash is imminent or that they’re about to run a red light.

General Motors

A top GM executive said Thursday that the automaker wants to peg United Auto workers' pay to their job performance. Workers who turn out quality vehicles would benefit financially.

"We want to pay for the performance," GM North American President Mark Reuss told reporters at an industry conference.   “All of those things that I get measured on, I want everybody else measured on, too.”

That would be a big change at GM, where the current UAW contract expires Sept. 14.

James Marvin Phelps / Wikimedia Commons

General Motors made $2.5 billion in the second quarter. 

That’s slightly more than GM’s cross-town rival, Ford Motor Company made in the same period.    Ford made $2.4 billion.

But both companies are forecasting a dip in profitability in the second half of this year. 

Most of GM’s second quarter profit came from North America, as truck and Chevrolet brand car sales rebounded.  North American President Mark Reuss says the strong performance came despite the slow economy and some unexpected events.

“I didn’t think the debt ceiling crisis was going to happen, " Reuss told reporters at an annual auto industry conference in Traverse City.  "I didn’t think the tsunami was going to happen, all those things you don’t know what’s going to happen.  But if you’ve got a business and an operational model that can handle it and adapt quickly, then I think that’s the key."

General Motors may have beaten analysts’ expectations, but the company is not yet meeting investors’ expectations.

This is GM’s sixth quarterly profit in a row, a dramatic improvement compared to the years leading up to the bankruptcy.

Chrysler Group / Flickr

The head of Chrysler and Fiat says the U.S. auto industry can meet tough new fuel efficiency requirements.  The tentative proposal will more than double the miles per gallon average for cars by the year 2025.

Federal officials, automakers, and the UAW agreed to raise the average miles per gallon to 54-and-a-half within the next 14 years. Right now, the average is 25 miles per gallon.  Critics say the new goal may not be technically feasible.  But Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks it is:

"The powertrain guys...  are an incredible resource, an incredible talent.  Let them do their job."

But Marchionne is a skeptic when it comes to the role electric cars will play in meeting the new requirement.  He thinks it will be easier and cheaper to dramatically improve gasoline engines and transmissions.

Pobrecito33 / Flickr

United Auto Workers President Bob King says the relationship between the union and Detroit car companies has dramatically improved.  That could help the two sides reach an agreement more quickly in ongoing contract talks.  And King hopes it will help him sell the value of his union to foreign auto companies in the U.S.

The UAW is a third the size if was in 1979 mostly due to the downsizing of the Detroit Three.  Future hiring by Detroit car companies will likely be modest.  So the UAW wants to unionize foreign auto companies in the U.S. 

Union President Bob King says most of the companies have agreed to meet with his group.  He says the union needs to overcome strong anti-union sentiment, and convince the companies that the new UAW wants to help them be profitable.

“Probably the biggest question in their mind is, is this for real, is this a passing fancy with the UAW or is this for real?”

Prolonged and contentious contract talks could throw a monkey wrench in the unions’ plans to try to unionize a foreign automaker.  But King and Detroit automakers say they’re negotiating in a spirit of cooperation.

New fuel efficiency requirements proposed by the federal government will be hard to meet, according to many people who work in the auto industry.

The Obama administration recently announced a tentative proposal to roughly double the miles per gallon average for vehicles by the year 2025. 

Charlie Klein with General Motors says most people don’t understand how hard it is to improve fuel efficiency, without sacrificing affordability.

Some car companies -- like General Motors -- think Americans might be ready to buy more diesel cars, as gas prices rise.

GM will offer a diesel version of its Chevy Cruze in the U.S. next year.

Early diesels in the U.S. had performance problems, like engine knocking.

But Charlie Klein of GM says modern diesel engines are dramatically better than in the past.

"Those that have driven them, they are terrific to drive," says Klein.  "And of course they deliver terrific fuel efficiency."

A top Chrysler executive says Fiat and Chrysler have made good progress at merging their two cultures. 

The Italian car company was put in charge of the Detroit car company two years ago. 

This is Chrysler’s third attempt after failed mergers with German car company Daimler and an investment group, Cerberus Capital. 

Chrysler’s head of World Class Manufacturing Massimo Risi says it helps the companies have a lot in common, especially the ability to survive.

Some car companies are rolling out brighter colors on their vehicles,  especially on small cars.   

These days, you can order a lime-green Ford Fiesta, a coppery-orange Honda Fit, or a sunshiny-yellow Fiat 500.

Mazda has probably pushed the color envelope the furthest, with an attention-grabbing color for the Mazda 2 called “Spirited Green.”

It’s really green. 

Teresa Stafford is a lead designer for color and materials for Mazda.

media.gm.com / staff

General Motors will invest $328 million in its Flint Assembly Plant, to prepare the facility to build the next generation of Chevy and GMC full-size pickup trucks.

The plant just added a third shift earlier this year.

Joe Ashton is the UAW's GM Vice President.

He says the profitable trucks made at the Flint Assembly Plant are an important source of revenue for GM.

The UAW heads into contract negotiations next week with Ford, Chrysler and GM. 

Ashton says workers want a lot of different things from their new contract. 

user: ifmuth / flickr.com

Emissions from new vehicles dropped 12% between 2007 and this year, according to a new index by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. 

But it’s unclear if that trend will continue in the future.

For decades, there was little increase in the fuel efficiency of the new cars people bought. 

That changed starting in 2007.  Consumers turned to more fuel-efficient cars and they drove fewer miles, lowering overall emissions. 

But it probably wasn’t environmental concerns that caused the shift. 

The United Auto Workers is hosting an important, unpublicized meeting about CAFE standards today at Solidarity House in Detroit.  

CAFE governs car fuel efficiency in the U.S.

The meeting could help the government decide how fuel efficient cars must be by the year 2025. 

The UAW, Detroit car companies, the federal government, and environmental groups will likely try to reach a compromise on future CAFE requirements, somewhere between a 47 and 62 miles per gallon average.    

U.S. Army / Flickr

We spoke with Bridget Tuohey of the Red Cross of Southeast Michigan about today's urgent nationwide appeal for blood donations, after tornados and other disasters impacted the agency's ability to collect blood this summer.

Tuohey says Michigan has been critically short of blood for three weeks now. 

Normally, the state can turn to other areas of the country to get blood when there's not enough donation here.  That's not the case now, says Tuohey, and the Red Cross can no longer completely fill standing orders for blood from state hospitals.  Some hospitals are postponing elective surgeries as a result.

The Red Cross needs all blood types, but especially A-negative, B-negative and O-negative.   O-negative is called the universal blood type because it can be given to anyone in an emergency.

People who can donate can walk in to a clinic.  But Tuohey says it's best to make an appointment ahead of time by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767.)

The availability of car leases practically disappeared during the recession.

But LeaseTrader.com says customer credit is recovering - and so is car leasing. 

John Sternal is Vice President of Marketing Communications for LeaseTrader.com.  He says more than 20 percent of new vehicles are now leased, including many small cars.

He says car leasing is more popular than ever before, because of a shifting attitude toward car ownership.

"Gone are the days when the majority of people will buy a car and hold onto it for fifteen years," says Sternal.

A technology company has sued Ford Motor Company over patent infringements related to some of Ford’s hottest new products, including Sync.

The lawsuit says Eagle Harbor Holdings met with Ford starting in 2000 to discuss using Eagle Harbor’s voice command software and other patented technology. 

Eagle Harbor's General Counsel, Jeff Harmes, says Ford’s hands-free phone system, Sync, uses some of that technology.   But he says Ford broke off talks with Eagle Harbor in 2008.    

Dr_Bob / MorgueFile

Michigan is playing a starring role in a new federal initiative designed to spark the creation of new manufacturing jobs as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. The federal government will spend $500 million to jumpstart manufacturing research and development projects.

President Obama says the government played an important role initially in projects that led to the creation of the internet, cell phones, and companies like Google.  He says this investment can do the same for manufacturing.

cha400 / MorgueFile

Federal officials are trying to talk Michigan political leaders out of repealing the state's motorcycle helmet law. Members of the National Transportation Safety Board are in Lansing today to meet with Governor Snyder's administration.

Insurance groups are also getting involved. Laurie Conarton is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan. She says more people will be injured or die if the law is repealed:

"After Florida repealed their helmet law, there were 81% more fatalities and 80% more closed head injuries."

When a massive quake struck Japan on Friday, March 11th, Bill Hurles was up north with his sons on a snowmobiling trip.  Hurles is head of supply chain for General Motors. 

After he saw the first footage of the tsunami slamming into the northern coast, Hurles cut his trip short and returned to Warren.   By early Sunday morning, he and his team were in the War Room, desperately trying to get information.

A new study suggests raising the water level in Lake Huron could cause as many problems as it solves. 

 Eugene Stakhiv is U.S. Co-chair of the International Great Lakes Study. 

He says people could build dams or other structures in the St. Clair River to slow the flow of water out of Lake Huron.  

That would raise the level of Lake Huron and benefit marinas and wetlands around the lake.   

But water levels would also rise near Chicago, which already has high lake levels.

Another American car company is betting that its U.S. customers want more hybrid cars. 

Ford Motor Company says it will hire more than 200 people to meet the increased demand for electrified cars.   

Earlier this year, General Motors  boosted production plans for the Volt by 30% for next year. 

Now, Ford plans a similar increase in its capacity to build hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars, including a new car called the C-Max. 

Congressman Gary Peters says Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must go.  But he says they have to be replaced with something else.

The two quasi-private groups provide a federal guarantee for home mortgages.

Taxpayers had to bail out Fannie and Freddie after the housing sector meltdown.

Some people in Congress don’t want to replace Fannie and Freddie with anything, and just let the free market take over.

But Peters says without a federal guarantee, banks would stop offering 30-year mortgages.

Both Ford and General Motors today predicted they will expand their global presence, despite rising energy and commodity prices. 

GM held its first public stockholders meeting in Detroit – and Ford held its annual Investors Meeting in New York. 

GM CEO Dan Akerson told stockholders to consider the company a long-term investment, not short-term.  GM stock has lost a fair bit of value since the IPO in November.    

General Motors will invest 130-million dollars in a new high-tech computer command center in Warren. 

The announcement follows a string of other investments by GM in North America. 

GM says the high performance computers at the new command center in Warren will help the company keep pace with the increasingly complex computer simulations required to build cars. 

It will also allow the company to keep its own data and customer data more securely.   

media.gm.com

President Obama will visit a Chrysler plant in Ohio today, a day after the U.S. Treasury reached a deal to sell its remaining 6.6% stake in Chrysler to Fiat. 

Meanwhile, the Treasury still owns 26% of General Motors.  But GM North American President Mark Reuss says it’s up to the U.S. Treasury to decide when to get out of the car business completely. 

Reuss says the government’s part-ownership of GM matters to American taxpayers and customers.   It also matters to GM executives and workers.

But it's not up to GM when the Treasury sells its stock.

UAW President Bob King asked business leaders to reexamine their ideas about unions during a speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual policy conference on Mackinac Island.

Acknowledging the conservatives in the crowd, King joked that it might be the closest he'll come to ever appearing at a Republican National Convention.

But his speech quickly turned serious, with an appeal to business leaders and Republicans to work with unions, not against them, for the good of both business and the middle class.

The man who led Ohio State to victories over the University of Michigan in nine out of the rivals' last ten games has resigned.

Football coach Jim Tressel faced an NCAA investigation into possible corruption in his program, including claims that players received cars from local dealerships. 

Sports analyst John U. Bacon says there have been allegations of corruption for years.  So he's not surprised that a scandal finally brought the Tressel era to an end, despite his stellar performance.

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