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/Economy
2:35 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

The Michigan-China Connection (an audio documentary)

Cars, agriculture, tourism, it’s all fair game for people who want Michigan to tap into the Chinese market.

But what does that really mean and who really stands to benefit?

Governor Rick Snyder recently led a Michigan delegation to China.

He says strong economic ties between Michigan and what is now the world’s fastest growing economy are essential to Michigan’s economic growth.

Part 1

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Tourism
10:58 am
Tue November 8, 2011

Pure Michigan in China? Not for awhile, say tourism officials

No Great Lakes promotions in China... yet
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Michigan’s agriculture industry is busy expanding in China.  But the same can’t be said for the state’s tourism industry.  At least not yet.  A million Chinese tourists are expected to visit the U.S. this year.  But only a relative handful will come to the Great Lakes State. 

Fran Wiltgen helps her son Joe, run his business, Joe's Bar and Grill, in South Haven, Michigan.

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Michigan food going to China
1:31 am
Mon November 7, 2011

From Michigan's fields to Chinese dinner tables

China is already playing a role in Michigan’s effort to diversify its economy. The country’s 1.3 billion people don’t want just cars from Michigan companies, they also want Michigan foods.

From baby food to blueberries, Michigan is tapping into a new and profitable market in China.

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October U.S. auto sales
5:54 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

October U.S. auto sales up, especially at Chrysler

U.S. auto sales rose again last month, as pent-up demand for cars continues to overcome low consumer confidence in the economy. 

Chrysler’s sales increase was especially strong, as customers continue to return to the smallest of the Detroit Three car companies. 

The company's sales rose 27 percent over October last year. 

It was also the 19th straight month of sales increases for Chrysler.  

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com says Chrysler finally has new products to sell, like the new Jeep Compass, which outsold its predecessor by 566 percent. 

Krebs says Chrysler is also running good ads for its cars, like the instantly iconic Superbowl ad starring Eminem and the Chrysler 200.

"And it’s caused people to at least know that the company still exists," says Krebs, "when many people did not think the company would survive after its bankruptcy, and it’s catching the attention of buyers."

Nissan sales rose 18 percent, while sales declined nearly 8 percent at Toyota and 1 percent at Honda.  Both companies are recovering from inventory shortfalls related to the tsunami in Japan last spring.

Group criticizes nursing homes, state
6:25 pm
Mon October 31, 2011

State: "Disgusting" neglect cases not typical in MI nursing homes

An advocacy group says many nursing homes patients in the state have experienced severe neglect and abuse.

The Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service says one of the worst cases involves a resident who had to have maggots suctioned out of her throat, after she was taken to an emergency room because she was having trouble breathing.

Another resident had maggots infesting her body near her catheter.

But state officials said these are isolated cases, and most nursing homes do a good job caring for residents.

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October Auto Sales
10:05 pm
Sun October 30, 2011

Another good car sales month, despite poor economy

The U.S. economy is still ailing, but it looks like auto sales had another good month, in part due to the recovery of Honda and Toyota. 

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com said overall U.S. auto sales rose about 11-percent in October, compared to the same month last year. She said it appears Honda and Toyota are finally making progress at boosting inventories, after the tsunami in Japan that happened last spring.

"And so we think that a lot of people that were destined to buy Hondas and Toyotas put off their purchases and we think that pent-up demand is coming into the market," Krebs said.

Car sales were up at Chrysler, Ford and GM, too. Chrysler's sales could be up by 27% compared to October a year ago; Ford up by about 8%, and GM by about 7%.

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GM, Nexteer invest in Saginaw
11:38 am
Fri October 28, 2011

GM, Nexteer to invest in Saginaw operations

General Motors officials say the company will invest $215 million in the GM Saginaw Metal Casting Operation to tool the plant to build components for future GM vehicles. 

The plant makes engine blocks and cylinder heads for GM vehicles, including the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Malibu.

GM says the investment will create or maintain 275 jobs at the plant, which currently employs 630 people.

Later today, Nexteer is expected to announce a large capital investment in its Saginaw operations. 

Governor Rick Snyder will attend both events today.

Chrysler posts profit
6:09 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

Chrysler makes $212 million profit

Chrysler made a profit in the third quarter of this year.

The news comes a day after Chrysler workers narrowly approved a new four-year contract.

The $212 million profit is small compared to Detroit rival Ford, which made $1.6 billion in the same period.

But it’s the second quarterly profit this year for Chrysler, and a sign that its recovery from the 2009 bankruptcy is gathering some steam.

In fact, Chrysler would have made a profit last quarter too, were it not for one-time costs associated with paying off its federal loans.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the just-ratified contract with the UAW will support the company in its growth plans.

The contract includes a much smaller signing bonus than the one Ford union members will get.

That was likely one of the main reasons the contract was so narrowly approved.

Ford problems easy fix
6:04 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

Ford quality issues easy to fix, says CEO Mulally

The CEO of Ford Motor Company says the company is well on the way to fixing quality problems in new Ford cars.

The problems resulted in a big drop in the rankings for Ford in Consumer Reports' 2011 reliability survey.

Customers are having problems with the company’s My Ford in-car communication system. 

Users found the touch screens hard to activate or they had to be rebooted frequently.  

Consumer Reports' David Champion said that’s a safety issue, if people are so distracted by the problems that they take their eyes off the road.  

The new transmission in the Focus and Fusion has glitches, too. 

CEO Alan Mulally said both problems are software related.  

"So it’s relatively easy and fast, to be able to make those improvements," Mulally told Michigan Radio.  "So we’ve already started to incorporate that in the products that are in the field but also in the new products coming out."

Mulally said Ford began working on the issue a year ago, right after customers started complaining. 

Ford fell from 10th to 20th place this year in the Consumer Reports reliability survey.

Ford profits slightly lower
10:20 am
Wed October 26, 2011

Ford third quarter profits down a bit but still strong

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company reports strong profits for the third quarter.  The company made $1.6 billion, despite a stagnant U.S. economy.   

The company's profit was down a bit from last year, because of a charge related to commodities, not because sales have slowed. 

Ford also reduced its debt by another $1.3 billion.

CEO Alan Mulally says the improved balance sheet -- and the new contract with the United Auto Workers -- will result in job growth over the next three to four years.

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Ford falls in reliability, Chrysler rises
5:22 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Ford Motor Company falls, Chrysler rises in reliability survey

Ford Motor Company fell from grace in a Consumer Reports survey this year.

The survey predicts reliability of new models, based on past performance of older versions of the cars.

Ford dropped from 10th place to 20th.

David Champion is with Consumer Reports. 

He says the MyFordTouch and MyLincoln Touch in-car communications systems work poorly.

And a new transmission in the Ford Focus and Fusion doesn’t work well, especially at parking lot speeds.

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Chrysler UAW voting ends soon
9:28 am
Tue October 25, 2011

Chrysler UAW voting on contract ends soon, could be close

The United Auto Workers is expected to announce the results of voting on a tentative contract with Chrysler by Wednesday.

Chrysler is the last of the Detroit Three to reach a settlement on a new, four-year contract.

Kristin Dziczek is with the Center for Automotive Research.

She said so far, the vote looks very close.  Union members with Chrysler may have been expecting more than they got, she said.

This is coming on the heels of two very strong agreements with General Motors and with Ford that had more cash and fewer contingencies.

Entry-level workers, who receive about 1$14 an hour now, would get a raise of about $4 an hour, phased in over the four years of the contract.

Workers would get an immediate signing bonus of $1,750.00, with the promise of another $1,750.00 dollars if Chrysler meets certain financial goals.

If the contract is rejected, it goes to binding arbitration, because of an agreement the union made with Chrysler during the company’s bankruptcy.

UMHS nurses have tentative contract
9:20 am
Tue October 25, 2011

UMH nurses have tentative contract after big rallies

Four thousand University of Michigan Health System nurses will vote on a tentative contract next week.

Nurses have been working under an expired contract since June 30th.

Nurses’ union president Katie Oppenheim said details of the new contract will be released later, saying only, "We believe it’s an agreement that will provide improvements for our members."

The union reached an agreement after nurses held several large protest rallies in August and September. 

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China
11:53 pm
Sun October 23, 2011

Joint Institute program changes lives, in Ann Arbor, and in Shanghai

Instructor Kwee Yan  teaches Advanced Energy Solutions at the Joint Institute in Shanghai.  

He gives a lecture on the energy density of different fuels that's indistinguishable from a lecture that an engineering student might hear in Ann Arbor. 

"Some people say we are addicted to hydrocarbons, we are addicted to oil.  There are some technical reasons for that," says Kwee Yan, to a classroom of mostly male engineering students, just as in the U.S.

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Ford union contract approved, Chrysler next
10:19 am
Thu October 20, 2011

With Ford contract ratified, UAW turns to Chrysler

Staff Chrysler Media

Chrysler union workers vote this week on a tentative new contract. 

Ford workers approved their contract on Wednesday, 63-percent in favor to 37-percent against. 

But the contract was narrowly rejected at the Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne.  Bob King is President of the union. 

"I don’t feel bad or in any way negative towards those workers because they voted against it," says King.  "I think they expressed honest, legitimate concerns.   I have the same concerns.   I don’t like a system where people on the same assembly line are making a different rate of pay."

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Ford in China
12:19 am
Fri October 14, 2011

Ford and the case of the Chinese official's hat

Want to know the real reason Ford isn’t one of the biggest car companies in China right now? 

Hats. 

That's right. David McKee says it’s because of hats. Here’s the story. 

In 1992, Ford Motor Company sent McKee to China to head a Ford components company. At the time, very few ordinary Chinese owned cars. Cars were a perk for bureaucrats. 

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EN-V could cut gridlock
11:50 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

Cute cars with a serious mission: cut smog and gridlock in megacities

Soaring rates of car ownership in China’s biggest cities are causing huge problems, from days-long traffic jams to choking smog. Even car companies say the trend is not sustainable. 

General Motors says one solution could be to reinvent the vehicle. Introducing the Miao, the Jiao, and the Shiao –  three cute, tiny cars with a serious mission.  

Car ownership in China has a dark side. Last year, a nine-day and a three-day construction-related traffic jam on the highway leading to Beijing were the most dramatic examples.

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Selling cars in China different than U.S.
10:59 am
Tue October 11, 2011

Detroit automakers shift approach to sell cars in China

General Motors now sells more cars in China that it does in the United States. In a few years, it’s likely that will be the case for Ford Motor Company, too.   

But selling cars in China takes a different approach than it does in the U.S.

There's much that's familiar at Shanghai Dongchang Fude Auto Sales and Service. There’s the piped in music -- the salespeople hanging out near the front entrance, waiting to grab the next walk-in customer., and the lineup of shiny new cars on the floor. 

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Auto/Economy
4:59 pm
Mon October 10, 2011

Chrysler and UAW to resume talks Tuesday morning

Contract talks between the United Auto Workers union and Chrysler resume Tuesday morning.  That’s after after negotiators were unable to reach a deal over the weekend. 

The UAW has asked its local presidents to come to Detroit on Wednesday.  That could mean an agreement is imminent. 

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Auto/Economy
11:43 am
Mon October 10, 2011

UAW and Chrysler temporarily halt contract talks

Top officials with the United Auto Workers are briefing local union leaders on contract talks with Chrysler today, after negotiators were unable to come to an agreement over the weekend.

A statement from Chrysler says talks ended this morning so the UAW could meet with its National Council.

Chrysler is the last of the Detroit Three to reach a tentative contract with the UAW.  General Motors workers last week ratified a new four-year contract by a margin of two-to-one.

Ford workers are voting this week on a new contract.

Both the contract at Ford and General Motors provide for a pay increase for the company's entry-level workers.

But Chrysler has many more of the entry-level workers than Ford and GM.  Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has called the pay increase at Ford and GM "overly generous."

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