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. 

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

People in Flint still should be drinking only filtered water or, in the case of pregnant women and children under six, bottled water. 

But officials say there are hopeful signs that phosphates are re-coating the Flint water system's damaged pipes, and may be lowering the amount of lead getting into the water.

U.S. EPA On-site Coordinator Mark Durno says phosphate levels in the city's water mains are rising.

MAP PRODUCED BY: Environmental Health Division Department of Public Health Washtenaw County, Michigan

A plume of groundwater contaminated with the highly carcinogenic chemical 1,4 dioxane continues to spread beyond Ann Arbor's city limits, threatening private wells in Ann Arbor Township.

Township Supervisor Mike Moran says he is so frustrated at the lack of  legal action by the state attorney general that it's time for the "nuclear option" -- asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare the region a Superfund Cleanup site.

Moran says in March, he will ask his township board for permission to make the request to the EPA.

The Argo Cascades is a series of little waterfalls and drop pools built in an old mill race in Ann Arbor. The polluted site is across the Huron River from this site.
City of Ann Arbor

An official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will address water contamination in Ann Arbor at a special meeting of the City Council Monday night at 7 p.m.

A plume of 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical, is slowly moving through the city's groundwater.

Ann Arbor City Council member Sabra Briere hopes the state will finally announce how much of the chemical is considered safe.

She says the state has postponed making that rule for eight years. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has joined a 20-state effort to halt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of its Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which is aimed at limiting mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The application for a stay alleges that the rule has already caused utilities to spend $9.6 billion, for only $4 billion to $6 billion in health benefits.

user: mariordo / Wikimedia Commons

Federal safety regulators have told Google the computer in their self-driving car can be considered the driver - in lieu of a human.

One analyst says that decision is a "launching pad" for the technology.

Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says many regulations were written long before the self-driving car was a twinkle in Google founder Larry Page's eye. So recognizing the computer as the driver helps to make the technology feasible.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is defending its eGRID system against a critique by an analytics think tank.

Companies all across the U.S. use eGRID to calculate their own indirect carbon emissions based on how much electricity they use. And it's not uncommon to see a company brag about a) their transparency on emissions and b) their progress in reducing their indirect emissions to fight climate change. 

House Foreclosure
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The number of U.S. homes lost to foreclosure last year dropped 22.6% from 2014, according to the analytics firm CoreLogic.

Economist Frank Nothaft says there were fewer completed foreclosures nationwide than any year since 2006.

And while the country hasn't yet worked through all of the extra foreclosures to reach "normal" pre-recession levels, "we're getting there," says Nothaft. "I think in the next year or two, nationwide, we'll be coming down to those levels, finally."

But it will take Michigan longer to get through its foreclosure backlog.

A shifter like the one shown here has confused consumers, resulting in the recall of more than 800,000 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles.
Mike Durand / creative commons

U.S. car safety regulators are investigating electronic gear shifters in more than 850,000 newer model Fiat Chrysler vehicles. 

Driver problems with the shifters have caused 121 crashes and 30 injuries. 

The shifters are apparently so confusing that drivers have exited the vehicles while they're in gear. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the shifters' operation is not intuitive and provides poor feedback to the driver. 

A few accidents caused by the rollaway vehicles resulted in hospitalizations. 

wikieditor243 / wikimedia/commons

Updated 2/8/16 at 1:32 pm and 2/10/16 at 2:50 pm

Many companies are making their carbon emissions public, to show they are doing their part to fight climate change.

But new research by Lux Research indicates most companies in the U.S. are either underestimating or overestimating their emissions.

Ory Zik is Vice President of Analytics for Lux Research.  He says estimating one's own carbon emissions is very difficult.  That's because electricity moves from region to region on grids.

Toyota

General Motors announced Wednesday it made a record profit of $7.9 billion in 2015. 

CEO Mary Barra told investors she thinks the good times will continue in 2016 and beyond. 

"There's been a lot written about the U.S. industry being at peak levels and that a downturn is imminent," Barra said. "We like many others do not share this view."

GM's record profit means a record profit-sharing check for UAW hourly workers, as well. Many will get $11,000 in the next month or so.

public domain

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger has filed a lawsuit on behalf of four people who contracted Legionnaire's disease after being treated at a Flint hospital.

One of the four subsequently died.

The lawsuit claims the state of Michigan is liable for providing unsafe water to the hospital.  It also alleges that McLaren's hospital in Flint knew its water, air and cooling systems had high levels of legionella bacteria.

McLaren officials say they have not seen the lawsuit yet. 

Dow Chemical

Andrew Liveris, the embattled CEO of Dow Chemical, confirmed during an analysts' call that he will leave the company in 2017, after Dow completes its takeover of Dow Corning, and then merges with Dupont.

Liveris' leadership has been under attack by an activist investor, who criticized Liveris for not pursuing mergers and other means of maximizing investor returns.  That was before the Dupont deal was announced.

Liveris has been with Dow Chemical for 40 years and was its CEO for 12.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

WARNING: Graphic photos of a dead animal are included at the bottom of this article.

The fierce opposition led by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) to Ann Arbor's first deer cull continues.

On Monday, HSHV released photos of a partially eaten deer in the Leslie Park Golf Course, along with a photograph of a fetus fully encased in its sac nearby.

The group also pulled the fetus out of the sac, cleaned it up, and snapped a photo of it lying on a piece of carpet.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Since October, plumbers with United Association Local 370 in Flint have been volunteering to install filters and faucets to get lead out of people's tap water.

On Saturday, the local guys got some help – from a small army of more than 300 plumbers driving in from Lansing, Detroit, Saginaw, and other cities across Michigan.  

They get a rousing, union-pride welcome from Local 370 official Harold Harrington.

"We did not cause this American tragedy in Flint," Harrington tells the group, "but we certainly can help correct the damage that has been done!"

Flickr user Pictures of Money / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A non-profit watchdog group says the person who signed a new law doubling campaign contributions was the one who ended up benefiting the most.

In December, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law that doubles the amount an individual can donate to a statewide election from $3,400 to $6,800.  The law also doubles the amount a political action committee can donate from $34,000 to $68,000.

IFCAR / Wikipedia/public domain

Ford Motor Company made a record $7.4 billion in 2015, largely on the basis of profits in North America and despite a very big loss of $832 million in South America.

Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks says the automaker also made a record pre-tax profit of $765 million in the Asia Pacific region – and the automaker returned to profitability in Europe for the first since 2011.

UAW hourly workers will share in the good news.

Bull-doser / wikimedia/public domain

Fiat Chrysler is making some tweaks to its current five-year plan.  And some of those tweaks are pretty big. 

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the company will double down on increasing its ability to churn out Jeeps and trucks.  In the U.S., he says the trend is clear.  

"There's been in our view a permanent shift towards UVs (utility vehicles) and pickup trucks," Marchionne told analysts during an earnings conference call.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

It seems unthinkable that some people in Flint might still be drinking water from the tap.  

But some undocumented immigrants in the city are just now finding out that lead contamination has made the water unsafe to drink.

That means some babies and toddlers may have been drinking poisoned water for weeks or perhaps months longer than others.

Jessica Olivares knows the new routine of daily life in Flint well by now - buying cases of bottled water at the grocery store, standing in line to get free water at the nearest fire station.

Creative Commons

One of the six "bellwether" ignition switch lawsuits against General Motors has been dismissed, after evidence was presented showing that the plaintiff lied about the timing and extent of his injuries and his financial damages.

GM faces hundreds of lawsuits across the country alleging various harms from its delay of a massive recall for faulty ignition switches.  The switches can suddenly turn off if bumped, disabling the power steering and the airbags. 

General Motors

General Motors is launching its first new brand in 20 years.

But it's not a car brand.

"Maven" is GM's new personal mobility service.

The new brand is in response to a trend, slight but noticeable and growing, of millennials and urban residents deciding car ownership isn't worth the cost or hassle. 

But they still need to get around. Peter Kosack is GM's head of Urban Mobility. He says Maven will give customers easy access to car-sharing and ride-sharing services.

NAIAS

An upbeat Barack Obama was greeted by an upbeat crowd at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources in Detroit Wednesday.

The president joked he will be looking for a new car next year after he's out of office, and there's no place better to browse for one than the Detroit auto show.

"I know they've got auto shows in Paris and Frankfort and Tokyo," he said, "but there's only one Motor City, and there's only one Detroit, and if you're looking for the world's best cars, and the workers that make those cars, you need to be in Detroit, Michigan!"

Volvo

Usually, the biggest buzz at the North American International Auto Show surrounds a vehicle.

This year, you could argue the big buzz was about a trend: The race toward self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that President Obama would seek $3.9 billion in the next federal budget to encourage the development of autonomous vehicles, which Foxx says show the potential to save thousands of lives.

Semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the road, with more to come.

MARIORDO / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Autonomous vehicles promise to dramatically reduce congestion in large cities and save thousands of lives, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

That's why the Obama administration will ask Congress to budget $3.9 billion over the next ten years to help spur the development of the technologies that enable cars to drive themselves.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company just can't seem to get investors to believe.

The company likely had its most profitable year ever in 2015.

On Tuesday, Ford announced a special dividend supplement of a billion dollars. 

And its stock fell. 

At the 2016 Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Ford CEO Mark Fields said he is not discouraged, despite the company's persistently low stock price on average.

Ford Motor Company

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles navigate using technologies to detect lane markers to stay on course.

But what happens when those lane markers are covered with snow?

Engineers with the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Company say their new research shows it's possible for a self-driving car to get around using highly detailed 3D maps of everything that surrounds the vehicle.

The North American President of Volvo Lex Kerssemakers accepts the "North American Truck of the Year" award in Detroit. The Volvo XC90 won the award.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Honda Civic has been named North American Car of the Year. The truck of the year is the Volvo XC90.

The press preview days for the North American International Auto Show officially kick off with the awards. The announcements came Monday morning at Cobo Center in Detroit.

The other finalists in the car category were the Chevrolet Malibu and Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Nissan Titan XD and Honda Pilot also vied for the truck award.

Honda's John Mendel says it's not the first time the compact sedan has won this award.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

In his first U.S. press conference since being named CEO of Volkswagen, Matthias Mueller said he planned to submit a "package" of solutions to remedy the company's deliberate installation of devices that disable emissions controls in 600,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S.

Volkswagen also installed the devices in millions of its vehicles globally.

"It is not only our cars we have to fix," Mueller told a crowd of automotive reporters Sunday night, "we know we have to repair our credibility, too."

On April 25, 2014, Flint officials toasted each other as they flipped the switch to the Flint River.
WNEM-TV

Flint's water crisis will be the subject of a new course at the University of Michigan-Flint.

Students will get one credit for taking the course (and doing assignments); people from the community can take the class for free.

Suzanne Selig directs U of M Flint's Department of Public Health and Health Sciences.

She says the class is a natural fit with the university's mission to be a bridge between academics and the community.

Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz / Creative Commons

The federal government says it has reached an impasse in talks with Volkswagen over penalties for emissions cheating. 

So the government is suing the automaker. 

The Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court in Detroit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that Volkswagen installed software in 600,000 so-called "clean diesel" cars that sensed when an emissions test was being performed. 

Ann Arbor plans its first-ever deer cull this year.
Rodney Campbell / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A group of Ann Arbor residents passionately opposed to a planned deer cull have filed a 92-page lawsuit to try to stop it.

Ann Arbor has hired marksmen with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services to try to reduce a growing deer population.  The deer are eating almost everything in people's yards and nature areas in some parts of the city.

The lawsuit contends the city doesn't have the legal authority to order a cull. 

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