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.


6:37 pm
Thu December 29, 2011

Kmart and Sears store closings "inevitable," say analysts

The parent company of Sears and Kmart has released a partial list of the stores it plans to close across the country; six are in Michigan.  

Analysts see the shakeup as inevitable, noting that after Sears and Kmart merged, the condition of the stores deteriorated, as did the shopping experience.  

Chris Christopher is an economist with I-H-S Global Insight.  He says that deterioration happened at the same time American consumers lost a significant amount of their buying power during the recession.  

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6:13 pm
Wed December 28, 2011

Consumers Energy further than DTE in meeting renewable energy mandate

cwwycoff1 flickr

Consumers Energy will take a big leap toward meeting the state’s renewable energy mandate next year.

State law requires utilities to get ten percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop says the utility will build 56 wind turbines in Mason County.  The project is called Lake Wind Energy Park.

"When Lake Winds begins producing electrons late next year in 2012, we will move from 5 percent to 8 percent, heading us towards the 10 percent requirement of Michigan’s law," says Bishop.

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2:15 pm
Tue December 27, 2011

UAW, Big Three, back to sponsoring bowl game in Detroit

After a four-year absence, the United Auto Workers and Detroit automakers Chrysler, Ford and General Motors will be one of the sponsors for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

This year's college football bowl game features Western Michigan University against Purdue.

The return to sponsorship of the nationally televised game is another sign of the domestic auto industry’s return to normal.  

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5:18 pm
Mon December 26, 2011

NAIAS endures as one of premier auto shows despite new competition

The North American International Auto Show gets underway in just a couple of weeks in Detroit.  While the show is still really big, it’s facing new competitors. 

India-based Jaguar and Land Rover are skipping the Detroit auto show this year to focus on a show in New Delhi.  In recent years, some big launches happened at China auto shows instead of Detroit.    

Michelle Krebs is with   She says Detroit’s auto show also has domestic competitors.

"New York, Chicago and L.A. all want to take a big piece of Detroit’s premier status," she notes.

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12:56 pm
Mon December 26, 2011

Tests confirm batch of Enfamil formula safe, says Mead Johnson

nerissa's ring flickr

A batch of  Enfamil brand infant formula has been retested and found free of a bacteria that’s blamed for the death of a Missouri child. 

The formula is made at Mead Johnson’s factory in Zeeland.  

Mead Johnson says it took the highly unusual step of retesting the batch of formula due to “misinformation in the marketplace.”  The formula had already tested negative for a bacteria called Cronobacter prior to leaving the factory. 

The company says its retests confirmed the safety of the formula.  And that tests by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had the same result. 

Mead Johnson says it believes the FDA is looking at other environmental sources for the bacteria such as the water used to mix the formula.  A ten-day old child died earlier this month from a Cronobacter infection, sparking the investigation.   

2:30 pm
Fri December 23, 2011

Stores pull Michigan-made Enfamil out of "abundance of caution"

More retailers have pulled a batch of Enfamil infant formula from their shelves, after the death of a Missouri baby from a rare bacterial infection. 

The formula is made in a Zeeland, Michigan factory.  It has not been linked to the death.  Testing by the CDC and FDA could take weeks to complete.    

Walmart, Kroger and several other retailers took the action out of an abundance of caution, after the death of a 10-day-old infant who had been consuming Enfamil infant formula. 

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5:45 pm
Thu December 22, 2011

Consumer sentiment edges up again - but still at recessionary levels

A monthly index of consumer sentiment shows a little improvement for the fourth month in a row. 

The University of Michigan index tracks how people feel about their personal finances, and about the economy. 

Chris Christopher is an economist with I-H-S Global Insight.

"Unemployment has actually fallen a bit," says Christopher.  "Gas prices are down, things are looking a little easier in terms of inflation, so people are feeling a little more confident."

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5:25 pm
Mon December 19, 2011

Saab headed the way of Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn - extinction

It's the end for SAAB.
user facemepls Flickr

Saab filed for bankruptcy in Sweden on Monday after its former owner, General Motors, opposed a plan that could have bailed the company out. 

Saab developed severe cash flow problems almost immediately after GM sold it to a Dutch company, Spyker. Saab had to stop making cars this year while it sought new investors. 

The company found a buyer in China, but GM  said no to the deal.   

Selling the company triggered contract clauses that required GM to sign off on transfers of technology used in many Saab vehicles.

A GM spokesman said the company didn't want to lose control of its technology and allow Saab to become a competitor's shortcut into the thriving auto industry in China.

AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan says there's now little hope the quirky little brand can be saved.  

"[Saab] was a vehicle that could easily be seen on the road as a Saab," says Sullivan. "It could never be mistaken for anything else, and I think we’re losing an iconic design."

Saab sold only a few thousand cars in the U.S. last year.

5:50 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Record number of cars get "Top Safety Pick" award from IIHS

Touring Club Suisse Flickr

A record number of cars got a “Top Safety Pick” award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for 2012.  That’s just two years after the safety group made it a lot tougher to get the award. 

In 2010, the Institute added a rollover crash test to its criteria for “Top Safety Pick” awards.  Only 26 cars got the award that year.  This year, most car companies had strengthened the roofs of their cars – and 115 vehicles got the award. 

But safety is a moving target, and it could once again get harder to win the coveted award.

Spokesman Russ Rader said the group is considering adding two new criteria. One is forward collision warning, with automatic braking.  Another is making side panels harder to sheer off when one car sideswipes another.

"If they prove to be effective, we will add those to the top safety pick criteria," Rader said.

Rader admits new safety features cost money, but he said car companies managed to add electronic stability control to all their cars without greatly increasing the price of their products. 

He said car companies tend to introduce new safety features to higher-end luxury cars first - and once the technology becomes "off the shelf," they add it to lower-priced vehicles.

12:33 am
Thu December 15, 2011

U.S. to fight new tariffs on big cars exported to China

American politicians are vowing to fight new Chinese tariffs on large U.S. made cars and SUVs.    

In 2010, the U.S. won a Chinese tire-dumping complaint before the World Trade Organization. 

China has complained about U.S. poultry dumping.  The U.S. is investigating whether China subsidizes solar panels. 

Now the fight is over cars.  Republican Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas heads a trade subcommittee. 

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10:40 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Optimism, pent-up demand, drive November auto sales

Chrysler sold 19,739 RAM pickup trucks in November

Car companies report their November sales today.

Chrysler’s sales rose 45 percent compared to the same month last year.  The big jump comes from three of the company's five U.S. brands.

Chrysler brand sales rose 92 percent, largely due to higher demand for the 200 and 300 sedan.  Jeep sales rose 50 percent from last November.  Dodge sales increased 43 percent.

Fiat 500 sales in the U.S.  continue to fall far short of expectations. Fiat sold 1,618 of the minicars in November. RAM truck sales rose seven percent.

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2:41 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Kwame Kilpatrick: "I've forgiven myself," even if others won't

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gave a speech about “second chances,” to a large crowd of students at Eastern Michigan University last night.  Kilpatrick was invited by a student group.

William Caldwall is a junior at EMU.  He protested outside the event with a sign that read “Actions Speak Louder than Words.”

Caldwell says he believes in second chances, but feels Kilpatrick isn’t making a true effort to redeem himself.  He notes Kilpatrick owes the city of Detroit hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Black Friday
5:45 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Feds to retailers: control the crowds on Black Friday

Federal officials are urging the nation’s retailers to control crowds during this year’s Black Friday sales.  

Those crowds could reach record numbers.

Retailers are aggressively advertising Black Friday specials in light of low expectations for holiday sales this year.  Some stores will open as early as 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.   

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6:11 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Pro-teacher Republican chosen to run for 51st District

Republicans in Genessee County have chosen a candidate who says he’s pro-teacher, in the election to replace Representative Paul Scott, who was recalled.

Joe Graves is a Genessee County Commissioner.   He says many members of his family are teachers.

Paul Scott’s 51st District seat is vacant, after the state’s largest teachers’ union led a recall against him. 

Scott was chairman of the House Education Committee.

Recall organizers attacked Scott for voting to cut K-12 education and extending Michigan’s income tax to pensions. 

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6:51 pm
Mon November 21, 2011

GM to hire hundreds in Tennessee in next few years

In another sign of GM’s return to health, the company announced it will hire hundreds of new workers – this time, in Tennessee. 

At one time, the Spring Hill Assembly plant was scheduled to close.  

Now, GM and the UAW agreed the plant will be converted to an ultra-flexible plant that can make a wide variety of cars on relatively short notice. 

The first car it will build is the Chevy Equinox. GM hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand for that car.

Kim Carpenter is a spokeswoman for GM. 

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6:22 pm
Mon November 21, 2011

Struggling Fiat brand in U.S. gets new top executive

The Fiat 500

Chrysler is shaking up its fledgling Fiat North America division. The brand is replacing Laura Soave with Timothy Kuniskis.

Sales of the brand’s only car, the Fiat 500, have been far below expectations. 

This year, Fiat had hoped to sell 50,000 of its minicars in the U.S., but it has sold only about 16,000. 

The departure of Soave is not a surprise.  Last week during a press conference, Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said Soave was head of the brand “for the time being.”   

10:32 am
Mon November 21, 2011

Ohio to Michigan: Please build a new bridge to Canada

The Ohio state Senate has approved a resolution supporting a new international bridge between Detroit and Windsor.   

The senators say Ohio needs that bridge as much as Michigan does. 

Ohio senators say their state does $31 billion worth of bilateral trade with Canada every year – trade that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in Ohio. 

The bi-partisan resolution says trade and travel between Ohio and Canada will only increase in the future, and a modern border crossing is essential to support it.  The resolution notes the age of the existing Ambassador Bridge, at 83 years. 

Owners of the Ambassador Bridge have lobbied fiercely to block a new bridge, and Republicans in the Michigan legislature recently shelved bills to start a public-private partnership with Canada, despite Governor Snyder’s strong support for the bills.   

Governor Snyder says he still hopes to win the legislature's support for the project, which will cost the state nothing, because Canada and Ontario have offered to pay the state's $550 million share of the cost.

12:09 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Detroit carmaker CEOs watch Italy, Greece, and worry

The heads of two of Detroit’s car companies say they’re concerned about the debt crisis in Europe. 

European consumers are pulling back from buying cars because of fears about the Euro and the economy.   

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on Wednesday said he’s hopeful the new leadership in Italy will help turn things around in that country.  But he says car sales in Europe could worsen through next year.   

At the Detroit Economic Club Thursday, GM CEO Dan Akerson said the crisis could damage more than car sales.  But he’s hopeful the U.S. economy has become more resilient.

"Could the United States withstand a recession in Europe?" he asked rhetorically.  "I think it could. "

Ford CEO Alan Mulally earlier this month took the most optimistic view, saying he expects some global economic growth next year, despite sovereign debt concerns.

12:01 am
Thu November 17, 2011

If you want safest car, choose the hybrid version of it

A highway safety group says people are 25% less likely to be injured in a crash in a hybrid car, than in the non-hybrid version of that car.

Matt Moore is with the Highway Loss Data Institute.  He says it’s possible  people in the hybrid cars might be driving slower, to maximize their gas mileage.

But he thinks the explanation more likely involves simple physics, because the smaller and lighter vehicle in a crash will absorb most of the impact.  

"Hybrids tend to be heavier," says Moore.  "On average, they’re about 10% heavier than their non-hybrid counterparts, and we believe that extra weight gives them an advantage when they’re in crashes."

On the other hand, hybrids are not safer for pedestrians.  Moore says hybrid cars are more likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents than non-hybrid cars.  That’s probably because hybrids that run in electric-only mode are very quiet, and people are more likely to walk out in front of them.

5:59 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Toledo Jeep plant gets big investment as Jeep goes global

2011 Jeep Liberty
Chrysler Group Flickr

Chrysler plans to invest $1.7 billion dollars in a new Jeep program, that will first roll out a replacement for the current Jeep Liberty. 

The new Jeep is intended for a global market.    

The investment includes a $500 million re-tooling of the Jeep Liberty Assembly plant in Toledo. 

The investment means 1,100 new jobs at the Jeep Assembly Plant starting in 2013.  

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the new Jeep should help tap growing overseas markets, like China, the world’s largest car market.  He says the Jeep brand is already taking off in Europe.

"I have similar expectations for Jeep especially in the eastern part of Europe – Russia," Marchionne told a group of reporters after a press conference at the plant.   "It  (Jeep) is best brand that Chrysler owns, by far."

The new SUV could still bear the Liberty name.  Marchionne says there could be at least one other "top-hat" built onto the new platform, and eventually, the plant could build up to four different models of Jeeps.  

The new Jeep will combine a Fiat chassis, or underlying platform with a Chrysler design and engine.