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
3:49 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

Ford and Toyota to develop a hybrid truck system together

Ford's Derrick Kuzak and Toyota's Takeshi Uchiyamada

Ford Motor Company sprang a surprise on the media world on Monday by announcing it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Toyota to jointly develop a rear-wheel drive hybrid system for SUVs and trucks.

Ford is the undisputed king of the pickup in the U.S.  Its F-series pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 25 years.

Toyota is the undisputed king of the hybrid - the Prius is the best-selling hybrid in the U.S.

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No incentives war in 2011
5:55 pm
Fri August 19, 2011

Will the U.S. see an incentives war among car companies?

Leading auto consulting firms are lowering their forecasts for U.S. auto sales in 2011. 

But it is unlikely to send automakers into a panic.

Some observers say the lower volume of sales means the U.S. is ripe for an incentives war among car companies.  

But Anthony Pratt with the auto consulting group R. L. Polk doesn’t see it happening.   He says a lot of the triggers that set off incentives wars in the past are missing. 

For one thing, U.S. car companies are making money at the lower volume of sales. 

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Chevy kicks off Dream Cruise
5:38 pm
Thu August 18, 2011

Dream Cruise underway - with Chevy leading the way

A Volt owner shows off his new car prior to the parade.

Chevrolet kicked off the Dream Cruise with a parade of classic Chevys and fifty Chevy Volts down Woodward Avenue.

It’s the first Dream Cruise for GM CEO Dan Akerson. 

Akerson has been CEO of General Motors since September of last year.

Akerson says the passion people show for classic cars is no surprise.

"GM has been part of Detroit, Detroit’s been a major player globally in automotive, and the Dream Cruise is a celebration of the industry and the success and the rebirth of Detroit," Akerson said at an pre-parade celebration.

GM plans electric cadillac
5:15 pm
Thu August 18, 2011

GM brings back electric, extended-range Cadillac program

General Motors has confirmed that it will develop a Cadillac version of its flagship Chevy Volt.

Like the Volt, the Cadillac ELR will run on electricity made by a T-shaped lithium-ion battery, or a gasoline generator.

The car has had an on-again, off-again history. 

As a concept, the then-named Cadillac Converj made a big splash at the 2009 North American International Auto Show.

GM CEO Dan Akerson says he doesn’t know why the program was suspended.  The car came up at a meeting shortly after he took charge of GM.

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Volts in Dream Cruise
6:25 pm
Wed August 17, 2011

Quiet Chevy Volts to join classic V-8 Chevys in Dream Cruise

Chevrolet kicks off the Woodward Dream Cruise weekend with a parade of classic Chevy vehicles alongside 50 Chevy Volts - GM's modern flagship electric car with an extended range gas engine.

Chevy is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Spokesman Rob Peterson says fifty Volts will cruise quietly down Woodward Avenue on battery power – alongside some classic Chevys with their big V-8 engines.

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Auto/Economy
6:30 pm
Mon August 15, 2011

Some Detroit brands slip in customer satisfaction

Customers were less satisfied with some Detroit car brands this year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Satisfaction declined from last year for Chrysler, Lincoln and Buick.

Claus Fornell is with the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.  He's the founder of the index.

Fornell says the decline is especially worrisome because satisfaction with most Asian brands rose.

He says Detroit could be in trouble again if the trend continues.

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Ann Arbor may ban car idling
6:16 pm
Mon August 15, 2011

Ann Arbor wants to end polluting practice of car idling

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.

DTE adds electric vans to fleet
11:55 am
Mon August 15, 2011

Detroit Edison adds electric vans to its fleet

Transit Connect Electric Van
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.

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Auto/Economy
5:12 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

A-123 may hire more in Livonia after getting big GM contract

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. 

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AUTO
6:21 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

GM is less complicated and less wasteful, investors told

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.

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MIS tests connected vehicles
10:32 am
Mon August 8, 2011

MIS to help test connected vehicle technology

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.

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UAW negotiations
12:02 am
Fri August 5, 2011

GM may ask for (and get) pay-for-performance clause in UAW contract

GM CEO Dan Akerson and UAW President Bob King shake hands at opening of 2011 contract talks
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.

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Auto Earnings
1:41 pm
Thu August 4, 2011

GM makes 2.5 billion in profit in the second quarter

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.

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Auto
7:25 am
Thu August 4, 2011

CEO of Chrysler says new fuel standards are doable

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne (far right)
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.

Auto
6:39 am
Thu August 4, 2011

UAW President: Relationship with Detroit automakers has improved

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.

Auto/Economy
5:49 pm
Tue August 2, 2011

New fuel efficiency requirements proposed by feds will be hard to meet, automakers say

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.

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Auto/Economy
5:26 pm
Tue August 2, 2011

Could Americans be ready (finally) for diesel cars?

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."

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Auto
4:02 pm
Mon August 1, 2011

Chrysler and Fiat cultures are merging well

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.

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Bright colors in small cars
2:03 pm
Sat July 23, 2011

Small cars increasingly grab attention with color

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.

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Auto/Economy
2:47 pm
Mon July 18, 2011

GM to invest $328 Million in Flint Assembly Plant

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. 

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