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. 

2007 Cobalt, one of the recalled models
GM

A recall crisis at General Motors hasn't slowed sales of Cobalts, HHR's and other cars with a defective ignition switch.

In fact, the cars are selling for more than they did just a month or two ago.

Alec Gutierrez of Kelly Blue Book says used car prices go up in the spring.

"So, it's a matter of a rising tide lifting all boats," he says.

ACSI / University of Michigan

Customer satisfaction hit a 20-year high, in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The index tracks how happy people are with their shopping, buying and consumption experiences.

On a scale of 100, the index read 76.8 in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Claus Fornell says one reason for the result is the recession and the slow economy that followed made it harder to find and win customers. 

So companies, and their employees, especially those in the service sector, are trying harder to please their customers.

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.

Researchers are going to find out how well rubberized asphalt will resist potholes.
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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

2007 Cobalt, one of the recalled models
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.

Toyota UK / Flickr

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.

UC Davis College of Engineering / Flickr


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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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."

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."

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.

(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.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

A group of Ann Arbor homeless people and supporters marched downtown on New Year's Eve, asking the city to change its policy for the Delonis Center on Huron Street.

The warming shelter at the center is open at night -- but during the day, it opens only when it is 10 degrees, including wind chill, or colder.

"At 30 degrees you have a risk of frostbite," says Ryan Sample, "and at 45 (degrees), you have a risk of hypothermia with wet clothes."

Finally. 

The lights are back on, and the heat is warming the house, for the roughly 670,000 Consumers Energy and DTE customers who lost electricity from a severe ice storm.

"It was one of the worst storms in our history," says Debra Dodd of Consumers Energy.

Heavy ice brought down hundreds of lines, and in some cases, pulled the poles down with it.

Dodd says customers were patient, understanding and grateful to the line crews, who worked 16-hour days to repair the damage.

Judy Putnam

There are times when warm weather is not a good thing, and this is one such time.

Brian Wheeler is with Consumers Energy.  He says the severe ice storm that struck a big portion of the state early Sunday left extremely heavy ice on the trees.

"The ice has been pushing trees and tree limbs into different positions," says Wheeler.  "A rapid melt could cause them to snap back into a different position pretty quickly too, and as they move suddenly, they could interfere with power lines yet again."

Christoper Sessums / Flickr

High winds are forecast for Wednesday.

And that could slow down the work to restore power to thousands of people after the weekend's severe ice storm.

The storm's path went through Lansing, Owosso and Flint.

Mary Palkovich is with Consumers Energy.

"This is the worst storm that Consumers Energy has had during Christmas week in its 120 year history," says Palkovich.  "It's unprecedented."

Have you forgotten about the snow already?
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Several hundred people across the state may be spending Christmas in an emergency shelter, after a severe ice storm on Saturday.

Dick Beauchamp is with the Red Cross in Genessee County.

The agency turned the second floor of its Flint office into a shelter.

About 50 people were there as of Tuesday morning.

Beauchamp said he expects more to show up.

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

Four years after facing the possibility of its own demise, General Motors is free of the controversial government ownership that saved the Detroit automaker in 2009.

"It was an unambiguous success," says Steven Rattner, who headed the Obama Administration's Auto Task Force.

The task force shepherded GM through an unprecedented 42-day bankruptcy.

The U.S. Treasury announced Monday it had sold the last of its stock in GM, at a loss of $10.5 billion.

Felix Henrichs

On Thursday,  Ford Motor Company will pull the veil off the redesigned Mustang. For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the iconic pony car will be sold in every region of the world.

Talk to just about any Mustang owner, and you'll get a story about how their love affair with the car began.

Laura Slider of Ann Arbor says she's wanted one ever since she was fifteen, the day a red Mustang appeared in the driveway across the street.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

People in Michigan's ski industry are happy about the early cold weather.

Most of Michigan's ski hills are open already.

Mickey McWilliams is Executive Director of the Michigan Snow Sports Industries Association.   She says ski resorts can make snow when the temperature is slightly above 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That's kind of the magic number,” says McWilliams, “If you look at your thermometer outside, and its 28, you know that there's snow on our slopes.”

McWilliams says most Michigan skiers do most of their skiing in-state.

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