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. 

General Motors is saying thanks but no thanks to more federal loans.  The Detroit automaker is withdrawing its application for more than 14-billion dollars in low-cost loans from the Department of Energy.   

Many car companies including Ford have received DOE loans, which are intended to help auto companies revamp factories to build more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.  GM applied for loans through the program shortly after emerging from bankruptcy.  But the automaker says its financial situation has improved since then. 

Gerry Meyers is a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. He's also a former Chairman of American Motors Corporation.  He says taking the loans would have given GM more debt.   And the automaker told prospective IPO investors late last year that it would avoid going deeply into debt.

It’s quite clear that they’re trying to clean up that balance sheet and also get the government out of the business, so it’s just another step in that direction and I think it’s wise.

Meyers says the next step to GM’s recovery is to stop the revolving door at the top executive level.  The company has had four CEOs in two years.   

Kordite

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood met with Ford CEO Alan Mulally on Tuesday to discuss the "epidemic" of distracted driving, as LaHood calls it.

LaHood’s self-described rampage against distracted driving has mostly focused on cell phone use in cars.  But the Secretary has also angered many people in the car business for criticizing profit-driving car technologies like Onstar and Sync. 

Many studies show that using a cell phone in the car is distracting.  And so are a lot of other things, especially if they pile up.  Let’s say you’re driving and there’s a kid in the back seat crying.  That’s distracting.  If you remember the Ed Sullivan show, you can think of that as one plate spinning on top of a pole.

Zuu Mumu Entertainment / Flickr

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra agreed to meet with striking musicians on Thursday. Musicians walked out on October 4th. The last time the two sides met to resolve the contract dispute was late November.

Meanwhile, patrons are hoping for a resolution soon. Jean Cranston has attended DSO concerts for the past 15 years.  She says missing out on the concerts is like “losing a friend.”

Cranston lives in the suburbs now – but she was born in Detroit.

"It made me have some connection with the city -- which I feel I don’t have too much of any more," says Cranston.  "And it also gives you hope when you go down there that things can revive in the city."

The DSO lost nearly $9 million last year. Management recently increased its wage offer to musicians. But the DSO also wants work rule changes that musicians oppose.

There’s more than one kind of hybrid vehicle. But most people only know about electric hybrids that use batteries.

The U.S. Department of Energy has poured several billion dollars into helping companies develop advanced lithium-ion batteries.  But to hear Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne describe the effort, that's tantamount to picking a technology winner, before the race is finished.

The big problem with advanced batteries, says Marchionne, is they're really expensive. A big battery can increase the cost of a vehicle by a third.  

"And I don’t think we should prejudice the discussion by saying electrics are the answer," Marchionne said at a press event held at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor.  "They may be part of the answer."

Enter hydraulic hybrids. They tap into energy stored in high pressure canisters filled with fluid and nitrogen. They’re cheaper than electric hybrids, and already used in some big rigs and garbage trucks.

Now, using technology developed by the U.S. EPA., Chrysler will build and test a set of hydraulic hybrid minivans. The company hopes to see the same improvement in fuel efficiency as battery hybrids - about 30 to 35% -  but at a much lower cost.

General Motors

For people who follow the car business, the big news coming from the North American International Auto Show on Monday was no surprise.    

Still, GM employees enthusiastically cheered and applauded the announcement.

The Volt is GM’s extended range electric car.  GM has big plans riding on the electric car’s small frame.  In fact, the Volt is more than a car for GM. It’s an entire strategy.

 Toyota Motor Corporation has launched a new $50-million dollar safety research center in Ann Arbor, as the company seeks to recover from last year’s massive recalls of millions of cars. 

The money will pay for research on ways to reduce driver distraction, and better protect the most vulnerable passengers including children.  Chuck Gulash is senior executive engineer at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor. 

user mariodo / wikimedia commons

The winner of the coveted North American Car and Truck of the Year Award will be announced Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show.

The awards are unique in the United States because -- instead of being given by a single media outlet -- they are awarded by a coalition of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and web sites. 

The finalists for North American Car of the Year are:

Another survey, another big improvement for Ford Motor Company.

Consumer Reports says its subscribers ranked Ford second only to Toyota as the best brand this year.  It’s a notable reversal of fortunes for both companies.

According to Consumers Reports, subscribing car owners perceive the Ford brand as nearly equal to the Toyota brand, and on the key factors of safety, quality and value, they rank Ford better than Toyota.  

Ford also was rated best non-luxury brand in a recent J.D. Power survey on initial quality. 

"This was long-term planning that is now paying off," says Jesse Toprak, an analyst with TrueCar.com.

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