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. 

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.

Fiat says it will buy the U.S. Treasury’s 6% stake in Chrysler.   

The announcement means Chrysler will be free of government influence long before General Motors will be. 

Fiat and the U.S. Treasury will negotiate the price over the next ten business days.   Fiat will own 52% of Chrysler once the deal goes through.     

Sheldon Stone is a restructuring expert with Amherst Partners.  He says the negotiations should go smoothly, since the federal government is highly motivated to get out of the car business.

Ford, GM and Chrysler are getting along with their suppliers better than they used to.  

But an annual study says the companies have a ways to go to catch up with their Japanese counterparts. 

John Henke is President of Planning Perspectives, which studies the working relationship between parts suppliers and their customers, the car companies. 

He says that relationship has long been adversarial for the Detroit Three, which means suppliers often don’t give them the best prices for parts, or the first crack at new technologies.

Orion Assembly workers will be producing a new subcompact car for General Motors in about a month at the automaker's newly-renovated plant in Lake Orion. 

GM doesn’t plan to lose money on the Chevy Sonic, even though small cars are less profitable --which is why other major car companies make their smallest cars in lower-cost countries.   

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says gas stations can now sell gasoline blended with 15% ethanol for all cars built in 2001 or after. Right now, when you fill up in Michigan, your gasoline has 10% ethanol.

The EPA says E15 gasoline will help reduce our need for foreign oil. Ethanol is made from plants like corn. The EPA only tested the effects of E15 on emissions and catalytic converters.

But ethanol is corrosive. Patrick Kelly is with the American Petroleum Institute.

The state is looking at requests to investigate the finances of two Michigan cities.

Jackson’s Mayor has asked for a state review of the city's books.  That's the first step towards the state appointing an Emergency Manager. 

Karen Dunigan says the city needs the state’s help, even though it has a balanced budget.    She says the budget covers payroll and not much else, and meanwhile, the city has $80-million in debt, with no plan to pay anything on the debt except the interest expenses. 

Congress is expected to vote this week on whether to take away 4-billion dollars in subsidies to oil companies. 

Oil company executives testified in Washington last week that they need tax subsidies to help them find new, American sources of oil. 

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she doubts that’s the case.  She says the subsidies amount to 1% of the companies' profits, and it’s fair to ask them to contribute that amount to paying down the national debt. 

Stabenow says the testimony by the leaders of the oil companies shows they are “out of touch."

One of the state’s leading stem cell researchers is leaving for a new job in Texas.

Sean Morrison was head of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Michigan.

He was also a vocal proponent of Proposal 2, which loosened restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in Michigan in 2008.

Morrison says the University is in a good position to continue important stem cell research without him.

Toyota’s profits fell 77-percent in the first three months of the year.  That’s in part because the strong yen versus the dollar eroded the Japanese company’s profitability overseas. 

The company’s global production also plummeted after the tsunami damaged many Toyota parts suppliers in Japan.

Aaron Bragman is an analyst with I-H-S Automotive.    He says Toyota is, at least, on the mend from last year’s recall crisis.

General Motors has announced it will invest a total of $2 billion in 17 of its U.S. plants. 

The investment also means the company will re-hire its 1,357 laid-off workers, and possibly hire hundreds of new workers, especially if demand for GM cars continues to improve.

At GM's Toledo Transmission plant, UAW members gather to hear about what it means for their plant:  a $200 million upgrade and the opportunity to build a new, fuel-efficient 8-speed transmission.

Saturday is National Train Day and events are being held across Michigan, including at many Amtrak stations. 

Tim Fischer is with the Michigan Environmental Council. 

He says gas prices are going up and so is train ridership. 

But Fischer says the same can’t be said of state and federal investments in the U.S. rail system. 

" So we certainly do need more funding for our rail systems, they are important assets that we should not be abandoning."

Here is a list of events:

Michigan Congressman Gary Peters wants to close a loophole that allows people to write off the interest they pay on their yacht loans.

Peters says current law allows people to deduct the interest on two residences.

"But the way the deduction is written, it’s anything that has a toilet, a kitchen and bedding, so yachts qualify, and so you’ll find that many people write off the interest in financing their yachts."

Peters says the loophole cost the U.S. Treasury a billion dollars in 2004, the last time the Congressional Budget Office examined the issue.

The Dearborn Federation of Teachers will be the first teachers' union in the nation to take over health insurance plans from a school district.

The union will provide two plans, an HMO, and a PPO, to its members.  Both are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plans.

Chris Sipperley is president of the union. 

She says Dearborn Public Schools demanded that teachers go from paying $0 a month to insure their families, to $625.

That’s when the union decided it could do better.

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