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. 

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."

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

A bill that would forbid the state Department of Natural Resources from considering biodiversity along with other uses of state lands, such as public recreation, or logging rights, is moving swiftly in the state Legislature.

More than 130 researchers who oppose it hope Gov. Rick Snyder will veto the bill.

wikimedia commons

Congressional Democrats say there are enough votes on both sides of the aisle to strike down a Trans-Pacific Partnership if it doesn't include key measures to protect U.S. jobs., including protections against currency manipulation.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to help cities deal with toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie.

"Particularly when they see something where you have an entire region could not utilize their own drinking water supply," says Miller, referring to a two-day shutdown of Toledo's water supply in August. 

Michigan State Police

Far fewer people died in traffic accidents over the Thanksgiving holiday period than last year. 

A federal grant put dozens of extra Michigan State Police troopers on the highways between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after.

automotiveauto.info

U.S. manufacturing is heading for a slowdown, according to IHS Global Insight.

Economist Michael Montgomery says right now, manufacturers are happy because so many companies are replenishing their inventories.

However, "inventories are a short-term plus," says Montgomery. "Over the long term, they don't mean very much at all."

He says it won't be slamming the brakes on. "It's sort of a midcourse correction, as opposed to a big sea change in the world," says Montgomery. "But it's enough to slow growth."

IIHS

Auto sales continue to perform well in 2014, say analysts, even though one of the usual ingredients in that success is missing -- strong GDP growth.

"The economy has not necessarily cooperated yet," says Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive.  "Not to the level, that 3% level, which is typically expected to support auto sales.  And we haven't really had that."

Schuster thinks 2014 vehicle sales will end up around 16.4 million.

Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com is just slightly more optimistic.  She thinks the industry could sell 16.7 million by the end of December.

Morgue File

The Michigan Public Service Commission says there was a nearly four-fold return on utilities' energy efficiency programs in 2013.

State natural gas and electricity providers spent $253 million on programs to weatherize homes and replace inefficient water heaters, HVAC systems, and boilers with efficient models.

The MPSC report says that will save customers $948 million over the life cycle of the replacements and upgrades.

Electric utilities are required to spend 1% of retail sales on energy efficiency programs, and natural gas providers, .75%. 

Auto dealers are once again jumping on the Black Friday sales phenomenon.

Analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com says last year, dealerships and automakers offered special Black Friday incentives to lure shoppers.

The result: Car sales during Black Friday weekend were 105%  higher than the three other weekends in November.

"So it does seem as if, we started to embrace it, and then it worked so well, no surprise that this year, we expect it to work well again, says Caldwell.

SEMCOG

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to lower the allowed level of ozone from 75 to 65 to 70 parts per billion.

Ozone is a dangerous chemical that forms when sunlight and heat interact with emissions from cars, factories, and power plants.

"Even going to 70 (ppb) will be a monumental challenge for us in the region," says Joan Weidner of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). 

SEMCOG is the group which monitors ozone levels and coordinates actions to reduce ozone. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There will be extra Michigan State Police troopers on the state's highways over the Thanksgiving holiday.

This is the first year of a three-year Thanksgiving holiday effort in Michigan to reduce traffic deaths and injuries by 10%.

"We will be looking at people who might be drinking and driving," says Sgt. Jill Gleason, "for people who might be doing aggressive driving, who are not wearing their safety belts."

Gleason says the night before Thanksgiving is actually the biggest bar night of the year in Michigan, beating out New Year's Eve.

Fred Thompson / Flickr

2014 is nearly over, but we won't know how much ethanol the U.S. EPA will require to be blended into gasoline for 2014, until 2015.  The EPA announced last week it will delay issuing the standard.

The ethanol industry and refining industry are on opposite sides of the Renewable Fuels Standard debate.  The RFS requires increasing amounts of ethanol in gasoline every year, unless there are compelling economic reasons to depart from the practice.

Earlier this year, the EPA indicated it was planning to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard for the first time since 2007 – because it appeared the amount of ethanol in gasoline would have to exceed 10% – and the effect of higher ethanol blends on older engines is unclear.

The delay on issuing that standard has generated relief among corn ethanol lobbyists.

Volkswagen

Manufacturing jobs - in particular, auto manufacturing jobs - used to pay better than other types of jobs.

After 2007, that was no longer the case, according to a new analysis by the National Employment Law Project.

The trend continues to worsen.

The report finds that manufacturers earned 7.7% less than the median wage for all occupations in 2013.

More than 600,000 manufacturing workers make just $9.60 an hour, or less. 

Mr. Bologna/Flickr.com

Consumers Energy says there's plenty of natural gas.

But in the thumb of Michigan, there are not enough pipelines - and that led to an unusual request from the company on  Thursday.

Consumers asked farmers who use natural gas-fueled blowers to dry their grain to temporarily hold off on the activity during daylight hours.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop says an unusually late harvest combined with an unusually early cold snap to create the spike in demand.

Brady Hoke.
User MGoBlog / Flickr

Wolverines football coach Brady Hoke has dismissed player Frank Clark from the team.

Clark was arrested and jailed this weekend on suspicion of beating his girlfriend.

Hoke says his decision had nothing to do with increased scrutiny of domestic violence by players at the National Football League.

“I've told our guys since day one that it won't be tolerated,” Hoke said. “ Won't be tolerated in this program.”

Hoke says domestic violence is "tragic," and a national issue, and says more needs to be done to stop it.

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

Many Michigan families remain at very high risk of homelessness after the Great Recession, says an advocacy organization.

Eric Hufnagle, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, say there are things cities can do other than wait for the economy to improve – like increase the amount of affordable housing.

Hugnagle says many people who become homeless  have jobs, but the jobs don't pay enough to let them afford rent.

All Things Nav

Nineteen automakers that operate in the U.S. have agreed not to share data from cars with third parties, without the drivers' consent. 

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Auto Alliance, says cars are increasingly becoming connected to satellites, the Internet, and each other.

Those connections create a lot of personal information about where drivers go – and how they drive.

But Bergquist says people should also remember that connected cars will also bring many benefits.

Bridgewater Interiors

A new $100 million dollar loan fund will help minority-owned businesses in Detroit.

Louis Green, president of the Michigan Minority Supplier Diversity Council, says access to capital is a big problem for minority companies.

"Minority businesses are more likely to be turned down for loans," says Green. "When they get loans they're at higher interest rates, and in fact, their experience has been so bad in trying to get access to capital that  they're even less likely to apply for access to capital than non-minority businesses."

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