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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. 

The Michigan Union covered in blooming ivy
Wikimedia Commons

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is suing the University of Michigan for taking too long to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.

Attorney Patrick Wright says his group wanted all emails sent by UM President Mark Schlissel that mentioned the word "Trump."

That's after Schissell publicly disparaged Donald Trump's campaign after he was elected, saying it was based on hate. 

Wright says the University eventually provided four emails, claiming exceptions to several others - but it took 100 days.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Nick Lyon, head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, has written a letter to McLaren Hospital in Flint, demanding it provide more information on efforts to respond to hospital-acquired Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia.

A major outbreak of Legionnaires' was linked to McLaren Hospital in 2014 and 2015, and two more hospital-acquired cases occurred at the hospital in late 2016.

Lisa Pugliano Mrowiec

Port Huron residents will continue to see big flares burning across the river in Sarnia, Ontario this week.

Imperial Oil spokesman John Harding says last Thursday, a mechanical failure forced the shutdown of several processing units.  

The company used flares to burn off the released gas and chemicals.

Harding says, "You need to continue to flare during the restart process as well," so flaring will continue for at least the next few days.

Harding says there was – and is – no emergency.

user Werwin15 / Creative Commons

More than 70% of the tenants at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit left after the city ordered them out a week ago due to building violations.

The converted auto factory is – or was – home to a major artists community in Detroit.

Eric Novak is the project manager for the Russell Industrial Center.  

He says they'll try to get people to move back, but it could take a long time because some had to sign new one-year leases elsewhere.

Lisa Pugliano Mrowiac

Thursday's fire at a Sarnia chemical plant left some St. Clair County residents frightened and desperate for information, says St. Clair County Emergency Manager Jeff Friedland.

But it wasn't until two hours after the fire broke out that he was given any information about the fire.

In the meantime, people in Port Huron, some of whom were 400 yards away from the fire, were wildly speculating on social media and wondering if they should evacuate.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Edmonds is denouncing recent arrests made by immigration agents in the city.

She says residents witnessed at least two people being arrested by ICE this week. Mlive reports four people were detained.

Monique Owens

Detroit police officer Monique Owens has great memories of Eastpointe from when she was a kid growing up in Detroit. 

“We used to go Eastland Mall when I was little,” she reminisces, “and we used to go to the Hostess Bakery right here in Eastpointe, and it was just - it was just a happy city. 

user Werwin15 / Creative Commons

One of the largest hubs for artists in the Midwest may soon be abandoned, at least temporarily, after Detroit's Building Department ordered all tenants in the Russell Industrial Center to immediately vacate the premises, due to building code violations.

Jimi Custer owns a video production company, The Afterhours Network, that operates out of the Center, as well as Channel 313.tv.

He says the notice was a complete surprise.

"I came to my work today and all of a sudden I can't do my business," says Custer.  "Now I've got to figure out where I'm going to relocate."

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Students at Michigan State University can no longer have message whiteboards mounted on their dorm doors, starting this fall. Misuse of the whiteboards has made them more trouble than they're worth.

Kat Cooper is Director of Communications for Residential Services at MSU.  She says too often, students would scrawl offensive comments on the whiteboards. 

"Racist, sexist, anything in that category. Those have happened. There's been issues with them for a long time," says Cooper. "People write things on them that really aren't not part of our value set at MSU."

wikipedia

The faculty union at Eastern Michigan University has filed a grievance against the university's administration over a controversial online degree program. 

Many faculty members are outraged, according to faculty union leaders, that they weren't consulted before the university contracted with an outside group called Academic Partnerships. 

The incomplete Wayne County jail.
Wayne County

Robin Boyle is astonished at the pace of development in metro Detroit -- development that is largely the result of public-private partnerships.

But the professor of urban studies at Wayne State University worries it's all happening too fast.

Take the proposed land swap between businessman Dan Gilbert and Wayne County.  The deal would let Gilbert build a major league soccer stadium on the site of the county's partly-finished jail - and in return Gilbert would build the county a new jail for $300 million. 

krossbow / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

More details have emerged about Eastern Michigan University's contract with Academic Partnerships, a company that helps universities offer degrees online.

On December 21, 2016, Eastern Michigan University disclosed that it had entered into a five-year contract with Academic Partnerships, an outside group that will help the university launch four online degrees.

Amtrak

Michigan’s passenger rail system doesn’t seem to generate a lot of enthusiasm.

We received this anonymous question on our M-I Curious page: “Why doesn't Michigan have a good passenger train system?”

The question simply begged for clarification, such as, “Who says?” and, “What would you consider good?”

Although the question got a lot of votes, we never heard from "Anonymous" again. 

So we went to the Amtrak station in Ann Arbor to see what we could see.

The train is late, but the train is still great

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Schools would have to give parents at least a month's notice before closing, under a bill (HB 4090) re-introduced by State Representative Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit).

Schools that are slated for closure for financial reasons would also have to shut down in the summer in most cases.

"It's irresponsible to close schools in the fall or winter or spring if isn't an emergency situation," says Chang.  "If school's closing in October, and the school year basically just started, then it really is disruptive to a child's education."

automotiveauto.info

Donald Trump's trade deal policies and his strong-arming of the U.S. auto industry could help to bring back auto factory jobs, says economist Sean McAlinden, formerly with the Center for Automotive Research and now an independent consultant.

Trump has threatened companies, in particular Ford and Toyota, with stiff tariffs for building cars in Mexico, although nearly all major car companies also build cars in Mexico. 

He has also withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and he plans to renegotiate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

Car companies are doing their public relations best to avert angry tweets by President-elect Donald Trump, who has been threatening steep tariffs on cars made in Mexico.

Today, General Motors announced it would invest $1 billion in U.S. plants and projects and create 7,000 U.S. jobs.  That appears to be a total of 1,500 "new and retained" jobs related to the billion-dollar investment: 450 jobs from in-sourcing truck axle work from Mexico, and 5,000 jobs primarily related to GM's decision in 2015 to in-source much of its IT operations to Warren, Michigan.

state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state's 138-year-old state Capitol building needs $62 million in urgent repairs to its infrastructure, according to the Capitol Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the building and the grounds.

Chairman Gary Randall says there was a big effort to fix the building in the 1980's and 1990's.

The GM Bolt EV, The Chrysler Pacifica, and the Honda Ridgeline won the awards.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

GM’s Chevy Bolt beat out the Genesis G90 and the Volvo S90 for the 2017 North American Car of the Year award. 

Sharon Carty of Automotive News was one of the jurors for the award.  She says it's no surprise the Bolt got the award.  It's the first long-range mass-market electric car to make it to the market.

"And it's great inside, it's super modern," says Carty.  "It's gonna definitely be a Tesla fighter." Tesla has announced plans for a mass market long-range electric car, but the vehicle hasn't yet been launched.   

flickr user Bernt Rostad / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert says he was in Toronto recently, and the view from his hotel featured numerous construction cranes.

He figures that will be a reality for Detroit, too - and soon.

Gilbert says there is almost no office space available in the growing downtown.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Google self-driving spin-off Waymo will show its fully automated Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans at the 2017 North American International Auto Show.

"With the integration of Waymo's hardware and software," says Waymo CEO John Krafcik, "these Pacificas have become the most advanced cars on the road."

Krafcik says the lidar (an environment sensing system that uses lasers), radar, and other self-driving technology, along with the artificial intelligence software, were all developed in-house by Waymo engineers.

The Ambassador Bridge could have a new neighbor (the Gordie Howe International Bridge) by early 2022.
Michael Carian / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit are suing Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Transportation over the proposed new Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Former Attorney General Mike Cox is representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit claims only the state legislature is authorized to approve a new international bridge, and since the legislature didn't do so, the agreement between the Snyder administration and Canada (which is paying the entire cost) is illegal.

A spokeswoman for the governor says, "We disagree, and we are proceeding as planned."

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The U.S. EPA estimates that companies in Michigan waste up to a third of the energy they buy because of inefficient buildings and equipment.

But most of the companies just keep paying those high energy bills, month after month, because they can't make a business case for a big energy efficiency project. The payback for the upgrades takes too long – often ten or more years.

Andy Levin is the CEO of Lean and Green Michigan.

Steve Fecht / General Motors

January 15th will be Mary Barra's three-year anniversary as CEO of General Motors.  The world's first (and only) female top executive of a major automaker, her transition was a trial by fire.

Barra became CEO of one of the world's largest automakers the week GM revealed it had delayed -- for ten years -- a recall of millions of small cars with faulty ignition switches. 

The scandal cost GM dearly, and Barra took the brunt of the political repercussions, appearing in the hot seat before U.S. House and U.S. Senate committees in the summer of 2014.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The hottest topic in the auto industry in 2016?  It's no contest, says Michelle Krebs of Autotrader. 

Self-driving or autonomous cars captured most of the biggest headlines, from a deadly accident involving a semi-autonomous Tesla car, to General Motors' announcement last week that it would test self-driving Chevy Bolts on metro Detroit roads in 2017.

Krebs says some of the buzz is just that - buzz.  But she has been impressed by the pace of developments, with Google, Uber, GM, and others all in some stage of testing autonomous vehicles on public roadways.

flickr

U.S. car companies are unlikely to get much relief from strict fuel economy standards under the next administration.

That's according to Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book.

She says car companies already did most of the work required for the year 2022.  They're unlikely to throw it all away and start over if the standards change.

"You know, it's like training for a marathon," says Lindland, "and then saying, 'Oh, no, sorry, just kidding.  It's only a 10k.'"

wikimedia commons

The upcoming North American International Auto Show might be more notable for the topics of discussion than the vehicles.

That's according to analyst Michelle Krebs of AutoTrader.

She says there's a lot going on right now, like the need for car companies to transition to mobility companies, as self-driving cars come closer to being a reality.  Then there's the transition to a new president.

While still the best-selling sedan in U.S., Toyota Camry sales dropped 10% in 2016.
Toyota

In 2015, for the first time ever, compact SUVs outsold sedans in the U.S.

Consumers continued to ditch sedans for SUVs this year. For example, while still the best-selling sedan in the U.S., sales of the Toyota Camry dropped ten percent in 2016. 

Sales of other formerly popular sedans plummeted even further. 

Michelle Krebs of Autotrader says gas prices remain low, and SUVs are a lot more fuel efficient than they used to be.

DTE Energy / via Twitter

The Michigan Environmental Council says energy legislation signed into law by Governor Snyder on Wednesday is a vast improvement over earlier versions.

The initial package proposed to eliminate Michigan's 10% renewable energy mandate, as well as eliminate a mandate to reduce electricity demand by one percent per year.

Instead, after months of negotiations, the renewable mandate was boosted, to 15% by the year 2021, and electric utilities must still reduce demand by at least one percent a year.

flickr.com

The Arab American Civil Rights League claims Western Union is discriminating against customers based on their religion and country of origin.

Director Rula Aoun says the company refused service to Dearborn resident and long-time Western Union customer Haidar Abdallah. 

He wanted to send money to the West Bank in Palestine.  Aoun says the amount was not suspicious.

"This was just a couple hundred dollars, just to support his wife and children," says Aoun.

car gear shift
Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Federal auto safety regulators have launched an investigation into the safety of some of Fiat Chrysler's newer model trucks and SUVs.

The investigation involves about a million 2013 to 2016 model year Ram pickups and 2014 to 2016 Dodge Durango SUVs. 

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