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. 

Ford Motor Company

Between 300 and 500 Ford Motor Company workers will soon be getting a raise - a big raise.

Ford is bumping the workers from the so-called Tier 2 starting wage, now about $19.50 an hour, to the Tier 1 wage of $28.50 an hour.

flickr

Mercury levels are going down in the Great Lakes.

But they're going up in the oceans.

Paul Drevnick, a researcher at the University of Michigan, has a new study showing that mercury levels in a specific species of tuna – yellowfin – are increasing at a rate of 3.8% a year in the Pacific.

Motor Trend

January 31 was the deadline to file a claim related to GM's ignition switch recall, and as the administrators of a special compensation fund expected, there was a last-minute surge in filed claims.

USACE

Calling it a "choke point" that could let invasive carp into the Great Lakes, State Attorney General Bill Schuette is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate, interim steps at the Brandon Road lock on the Des Plaines River near Joliet, Illinois.

The Truth About Cars/wikipedia

A law firm says it will file suit against Ford Motor Company because the automaker fired a Christian contract employee for criticizing the company's support of gay employees.

Ford Motor Company says the employee, Thomas Banks, violated its anti-harassment policy.

Banks' law firm, Liberty Institute, says Ford discriminated against Banks for his religious beliefs, in violation of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Ford Motor Company's earnings last year totaled $3.2 billion, a big drop from 2013, when the company made $6.2 billion.

But Ford executives say much of the decline is due to a record 24 new vehicle launches last year.  

"Certainly we have more costs associated with those product launches," says Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks. "(But) they were going to set us up for a much stronger 2015 and that's exactly where we find ourselves today."

wikipedia

Michigan Congressman Tim Walberg has re-introduced a package of bills intended to restrain the powers of government authorities to seize assets from citizens.

Walberg says too often, police use forfeiture powers as a revenue stream, rather than a crime-fighting tool.

If you follow auto news at all, you know this already.  Ford Motor Company's new F-150 has an aluminum body. 

Aluminum is lighter than steel, so the switch has taken up to 700 pounds off the weight of the pickup, improving the truck's fuel economy as well as the payload and towing capacity.

wikipedia

Michigan agriculture producers say it's time to lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

They say Cuba is an untapped market for Michigan's black beans, fruits, milk and other products.

Dave Armstrong is CEO of GreenStone Farm Credit.

"Foreign competitors like Canada, Brazil, the European Union and Argentina – which don't have such restrictions – are taking U.S. and Michigan market share," says Dave Armstrong, CEO of Greenstone Farm Credit.

Jim Byrum is President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

Wikipedia

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with the auto industry to phase out most copper from brake pads by the year 2025.

The agreement follows in the wake of California's adoption of the regulation, which is designed to protect salmon and other fish, along with aquatic plants, from the toxic effects of copper.

Every time a driver hits the brakes, the friction rubs off part of the brake pad. The fine dust of copper and other toxic materials on roadways is flushed into nearby waterways.

GsGeorge / WIKIMEDIA Commons

Ann Arbor's Downtown Development Authority may start an ambassadors program, similar to the one now in place in Grand Rapids.

City ambassadors can perform a wide range of services – from directing tourists to landmarks, to opening doors for people at large events, to handing out umbrellas to visitors on rainy days.

Susan Pollay is Director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.  She says if such a program starts in Ann Arbor, it would be "multi-faceted."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan State Police say they have been focusing resources on an unusually dangerous stretch of I-94 between Battle Creek and Galesburg for some time.

That was before a massive pileup of more than 190  vehicles on January 9th.

Now, police will bring even more resources to bear on the area.  An enforcement campaign this summer will expand beyond the usual speeding and drunk driving offenses.

"We're also going to incorporate some videotaping of some drivers texting while driving," says Lieutenant Dale Hinds.  "We've had quite a bit of issue with that in that area."

user dgtmedia-simone / wikimedia commons

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne rarely holds a press conference without offering at least one memorable quote.

Actually, let's make that never. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has never given a press conference without making at least one statement that is memorable, or colorful, or shocking, or funny, or all four combined.

GM hopes the Chevy Bolt will make long range electric cars affordable.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

General Motors officials introduced a concept car, the Chevy Bolt, today at the North American International Auto Show. The car company claims the all-electric car has a range of up to 200 miles on one charge and will be affordable to the typical consumer. The company puts the price of the Bolt at $30,000 including a federal tax credit.

If it’s released, the Bolt would compete with the electric car-maker Tesla. Tesla’s Model S has a range of 265 miles on one charge, but the car’s price tag is out of reach for many consumers with a base price of nearly $70,000.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint's emergency manager says he will not approve a return to Detroit's water system, even though the city's switch to using water from the Flint River has been rife with problems.

Flint ditched its water contract with Detroit, and began using water from the Flint River instead this spring.  Complaints surfaced early on about the water's taste. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A state emergency loan board approved a modified firefighters contract that Emergency Manager Darnell Early says will save $600,000 in the first year, and $6 million dollars long-term. 

Firefighters had proposed their own concessions, but the State Treasury says those were rejected because they didn't achieve the same cost savings.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra.
Dave Pinter / flickr

Two weeks after Mary Barra took charge of General Motors, she faced a sudden challenge that could have tested even a seasoned CEO.

The automaker was forced to admit it had delayed a recall of 2.6 million Cobalts and other small cars for 10 years, leading to dozens of deaths that might not have happened had the recall been timely.

Soon, Barra was called before several congressional committees, where she endured sometimes merciless questioning about the scandal. 

Marianne Udow-Phillips is Director of the University of Michigan's Center for Healthcare Research.
user mudowp / Twitter

Marianne Udow-Phillips, Director of the UM Center for Healthcare Research, is not making any more predictions. 

At least, not about health insurance coverage rates in Michigan.

IIHS / Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Analysts expect another good year for auto sales in 2015. 

But automakers may have to lean more heavily on techniques that boost sales.

Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive says it looks like the economy will grow this year - albeit slowly. 

Economic growth supports car buying.

"But the real wild card is going to be interest rates," he says.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Gas prices dropped below $2.00 a gallon on the first day of the New Year. 

AAA Michigan says March of 2009 is the last time gas prices were this low.

The current statewide average is $1.97 per gallon.  

The decline is due to a very large drop in crude oil costs; AAA says crude oil represents about two-thirds of the cost of gasoline.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Jim Harbaugh displayed a ready wit, apologized for some past mistakes, and refused to guarantee a win over Ohio State at his first press conference as head coach for the University of Michigan football program.

The former San Francisco 49ers head coach and U of M star quarterback says he's dreamed about the job ever since he was a ball boy for the team, who once sat down at Bo Schembechler's desk and put his feet up on it.

Now the coach's desk – and team – are his.

Wikimedia

Jim Harbaugh will be the next coach of the University of Michigan football team.

UM Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett made the announcement at a packed press conference in Ann Arbor.

Harbaugh will be paid roughly $5 million a year, plus incentives, over an eight-year contract.

taxcredits.net

Four years ago, Michigan changed the way it competes with other states in order to capture new business investment and jobs.

State officials say the changes appear to be working. 

Auto sales grew in 2014
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It was a record year for recalls in 2014.  But that didn't appear to hamper new car sales in the slightest.

Analysts expect 16.4 million in car sales for the year.

flickr.com

The National Insurance Crime Bureau tracks car thefts by just about any variable you can think of, including holiday car thefts. 

The Bureau's Frank Scafidi says in many states, the lowest number of car thefts take place on Christmas Day, "so maybe there's still a little holiday Christmas spirit among thieves, too."

But the most popular holiday - New Year's Day - is just around the corner.

U.S. Treasury

Almost six years to the day it was bailed out by the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, Ally Financial has exited.

"With this sale, we are exiting the last major TARP investment and winding down the Auto Industry Financing Program," said Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

Migrant Legal Action Program

President Barack Obama's recent executive order on immigration could be a boost for Michigan's economy, according to a panel of experts convened by Michigan United, a coalition of faith, labor, business, social service, and civil rights members.

The order allows undocumented parents of children legally in the U.S. to apply for a temporary work permit, as long as they have resided in the U.S. for five years or more, undergo a criminal background check, and pay taxes.

FCA

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is changing the name of its American division.

Chrysler (actually Chrysler Group, LLC) is now FCA US LLC.  Or FCA US for short.

FCA explained the change this way:

CDC/wikimedia

Beginning Jan. 1, Michigan parents will have to get a certificate from their local health department if they want to opt out of vaccinating their children. The certificate will state they were told about the risks of not vaccinating, both for their kids and the greater community.

Call it a lecture, although the Michigan Department of Community Health is calling it "a conversation."

Wikipedia

The Michigan Department of Community Health is urging parents in Michigan to have their children vaccinated against the measles, after five unvaccinated children came down with the highly communicable disease.

"Measles can result in complications that include hospitalization, pneumonia, encephalitis and in severe cases, death," says spokeswoman Jennifer Smith. "So it isn't something to be taken lightly."

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