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
6:55 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

New videos feature GM CEO Mary Barra on the delayed recall

GM CEO Mary Barra, right, at customer engagement center.
General Motors

GM released four additional videos featuring CEO Mary Barra to try to answer the most common questions customers have about an ignition switch recall that was delayed for nearly 10 years.

The most pressing question is probably: "Is it safe to drive my car?"

GM has recalled more than 1.5 million late-model Cobalts, HHRs, Pontiac Solstices, Saturn Skys and Saturn Ions.

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Weather
4:37 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

You're not going to like the answer: 'How long to get rid of all those potholes?'

Ain't this one a beaut?
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Virtually every city in Michigan has 'em, and lots of 'em. 

The extreme cold this winter created a bumper crop of potholes that are slowing traffic and causing accidents and flat tires.  

Some streets have degraded so much they're more pothole than driveable surface.  Commuting has turned into a real-life game of Frogger.

And here's the really bad news.  Some cities won't be back to a "normal" number of potholes until June.

Todd Nepper runs the city of Jackson's Public Works Department.

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Auto
6:49 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

Automakers helping minority, female-owned suppliers break into the biz

Leon Richardson, President and CEO of ChemicoMays, one of GM's diversity suppliers
ChemicoMays

Auto companies are reducing the total number of their suppliers to maximize cost savings -- and that can make it harder than ever for new part suppliers to break into the business.

So, automakers like Ford Motor Company are doing what they can to make sure female, minority and veteran-owned manufacturers aren't bypassed.

Carla Traci Preston is Ford's Director of Supplier Diversity Development.

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Health
4:31 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

More people admit to texting, emailing while driving

Texting while at the wheel
Oregon Department of Transportation

More people in the state admit they text or email while driving now than they did than two years ago.

Sixteen percent of those surveyed say they have done it - or do it on a regular basis.  That's twice as many people as in 2012.

Lynn Sutfin is with the state Office of Highway Safety Planning.

"Texting and emailing, those are probably some of the chief ways that people communicate these days," says Sutfin.  "Unfortunately they are continuing to communicate that way when they're behind the wheel of a vehicle."

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Education
6:31 pm
Wed March 5, 2014

USDA looking into research animal deaths at University of Michigan

Veterinary medical officer checking health of guinea pig
NIH

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Animal Welfare Act, says it is "looking into" four incidents at the University of Michigan involving research animals.

The agency says that's not the same as a formal investigation.

The USDA is acting on a complaint by an animal rights group, SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation NOW) which demands the maximum fine against the University for the deaths of several research animals, including the death of a baboon.

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Auto
4:23 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Car sharing means fewer car sales, according to study

Enterprise car-sharing ad
Enterprise

A new study says car sharing has already cost U.S. auto dealers a lot of car sales over the past few years –and the trend will accelerate in the future.

John Hoffecker of AlixPartners says car-sharing services like ZipCar reduced car purchases by 500,000  between 2006 and 2013.

The AlixPartners study focused on 10 metro areas where car-sharing services are well established.

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Politics & Government
4:10 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

Debbie Dingell going after her husband's job

Debbie Dingell announced her run for Congress today.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Debbie Dingell, wife of U.S. Congressman John Dingell, has made it official: She will run for her husband's 12th District seat. 

John Dingell is retiring after 58 years in Congress.

Debbie Dingell, 59, is a member of the Democratic National Committee, and is chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

She also worked for General Motors for 30 years.

Dingell made three appearances Friday, including one at Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor.

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Weather
5:16 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Harsh winter killed many of Michigan's honeybees

Honeybee gathering nectar and pollen from honeysuckle
Zachary Huang MSU

Humans got off easy this harsh winter, compared to honeybees.

The severe cold killed off many hives.

Zachary Huang is a honeybee expert at Michigan State University.

He says, in a normal winter, a hive needs about 60 pounds of honey.  "And  they just eat the food and then shiver their muscles (to create heat) and huddle together so they are warm enough, and they don't get frozen."

But, this was no normal winter.  And it also followed a very poor goldenrod season, a plant many honeybees use to make honey.

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Auto
3:43 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

GM expands recall, admits investigation was faulty

2007 Cobalt
GM

General Motors is expanding its recall of cars for a defect that can suddenly turn off the cars and disable the airbags.

The company also admits it made mistakes during the initial recall.

The defect is a faulty switch that may have caused more than 30 crashes and 13 deaths.

In some instances, the ignition switches turn off if the car is jarred, or if the key ring has extra weight on it.

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Business
6:00 am
Tue February 11, 2014

High stakes for Michigan's pilot apprenticeship program

An engineer works with a student apprentice at Toyota.
Toyota UK Flickr

Tracy Samilton's report on apprenticeships in Michigan.

Michigan imports a lot of things from Germany, from craft beer to high-tech appliances.

Now, the state's trying to import Germany's highly successful apprentice system.

The hope is that employer-paid apprenticeships could address two problems: high-skilled jobs that go unfilled – and four-year college degrees that are becoming unaffordable.

One such program is already underway, teaching students how to manage automated assembly lines.

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Business
11:49 pm
Sun February 9, 2014

Could German-style paid apprenticeships work in Michigan?

A professor works with students on mechantronics programs.
UC Davis College of Engineering Flickr

Tracy Samilton's report on apprenticeship programs.

In the United States, high school students are often told they need a four-year college degree to get a good job. That can mean racking up a lot of debt.

But in Germany, students can choose a paid apprenticeship. Now, Michigan officials hope to import the system here.

The apprentice system in Germany is extensive. You can become a land surveyor, a bank clerk, a robotics technician... so it's not hard to find someone who's done it.

When Sophie Stepke was 16, she was a typical teen. She had no idea what she wanted to do for a living.

She could have postponed a decision by staying in high school. Instead,

I went for an apprenticeship as a professional land surveyor. So for three years, I worked with an employer, I went to school, and I basically became a professional land surveyor. So I was staying out there building streets and building houses and all that kind of stuff.

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Auto
3:10 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

2013 expensive year for GM, drives down profit

GM CEO Mary Barra, with her predecessor Dan Akerson in background
General Motors

General Motors made $3.77  billion in 2013.

That's a 22% drop from the year before.

GM got hit with a lot of extra costs last year. The company is taking the Chevy brand out of Europe, so it doesn't compete with the automaker's Opel brand, and it's closing a plant in Europe.

GM is also closing its Holden division in Australia. And its taxes went up.

But GM's new CEO Mary Barra tells investors quality is also up.

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Auto
1:13 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Car companies that innovate have the edge, says study

The future of "Look, ma, no hands!"
Ford Motor Company

It's a car-eat-car world out there, and Boston Consulting Group says the competition is only going to get more fierce.

BCG's new study finds that companies that are more innovative will have an important competitive advantage. 

Analyst Xavier Mosquet says a majority of people say they want to buy a car from a company they perceive as innovative.

But, it may not be easy to meet their expectations. 

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Auto
9:05 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Ford takes calculated risk with aluminum F-150

One of the F150s owned by Plantwise at site of controlled burn.
David Mindell

Ford Motor Company revealed a groundbreaking change for its top-selling F-150 truck at the North American International Auto Show on Monday. The new truck will have a body made mostly of aluminum instead of steel.

Ford is taking the calculated risk to retain its crown as the number one seller of pickups in the world.

Ford is banking on the loyalty of F-150 owners like David Mindell, CEO of Plantwise, a company that specializes in native plant landscaping and wetlands restoration.

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F-150
9:42 am
Mon January 13, 2014

NAIAS: New F-150 with aluminum will be tough and strong, says Ford

New Ford F-150
media.ford.com

In a calculated risk meant to ensure Ford remains the leader in full-size pickups – and to meet upcoming truck fuel economy standards – the Dearborn automaker revealed a new F-150 that will shed about 700 pounds of its weight by switching much of the body to aluminum.

The company stresses that the frame of the truck will remain high-strength steel, but, "pound for pound, aluminum is stronger than steel," Ford CEO Alan Mulally told reporters after the event, which featured several F-150s bursting through a paper barrier designed to look like a concrete wall.

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Health
4:58 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

Healthy adults landing in hospitals from H1N1 flu this year

If you hate flu shots...you can get a nasal spray vaccine
Douglas Jordan, M.A. Centers for Disease Control

The same flu strain that caused the 2009 flu pandemic is back again this year.

Angela Minicuci  is a spokesperson for the state Department of Community Health.

She says everyone should be protected from H1N1, not just those considered high-risk, like the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses.

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Weather
6:14 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

Before you call the furnace repair person, check outside

Utility companies say they're getting lots of calls about furnaces not working -- and many are related to the deep snow.

Scott Bartholomew is with Consumers Energy.

He says high efficiency furnaces have fresh air PVC intake pipes on the outside of the home.

"What happens is the snow gets packed up in it, and it will block off the intake," says Bartholomew, "or it will suck up some snow in there -- which will trip off the pressure switches and doesn't allow the furnace to come on."

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Economy
5:55 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

2014 holds economic promise, caution, for Michigan

Furniture maker
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Michigan's primary industry, the auto industry, had a boom year in 2013.  That rapid growth is expected to slow in 2014, according to Robert Dye, an economist with Comerica Bank.

So, there may not be as many auto jobs created.

But, Dye notes that West Michigan's furniture industry could experience a boom.

"As we generate more jobs nationwide, companies will start reinvesting back into their office space," says Dye.  "And so I do expect improving conditions for furniture manufacturers in Michigan."

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Transportation
5:45 pm
Thu January 2, 2014

Before you start that snow blower, read this

Lots of snow? Fire up the old snowblower - with fresh gas
Outdoor Power Equipment Institute

Some people who left gasoline in their snow blower last winter, and fired it up without refueling this winter, are finding out that was a mistake.

Almost all gasoline sold in Michigan has 10% ethanol in it. That gas, called E-10, destabilizes after a month. So firing up a small engine with old gas can damage the engine. 

Kris Kiser is president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. He says people should drain the old gas and replace it with new.

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Auto
6:45 pm
Wed January 1, 2014

Fiat to own 100% of Chrysler by January 20

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Fiat began the new year with a pretty big announcement: It will soon have full ownership of Chrysler.

The Italian automaker owns 59% of Chrysler, and will buy the 41% stake owned by the VEBA -- a trust set up to pay for union retiree health care -- by January 20.

The company will pay $3.65 billion. The company will also pay the VEBA an additional $700 million, split into four equal payments, made over the next four years.

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