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. 

Wikipedia

Hyundai and Kia made the greenest cars last year, according to an annual ranking by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The sister Korean companies stole the crown from Honda, which had been No. 1 since 1998.

dangerouscurrents.org

Safety advocates hope to reduce drownings caused by rip currents in the Great Lakes this summer - especially at Michigan beaches.

A rip current is a strong river-like flow of water away from shore, that happens when water is pushed up against something like a pier, island, or sandbar.

Swimmers who get caught in one can panic, become exhausted swimming against it, and drown.

Elizabeth LaPorte is with the Michigan Sea Grant.

A group of residents of Scio Township and Ann Arbor hope to stop an oil well project in a heavily residential area between the two municipalities.

That's even though state law prohibits townships from passing ordinances to ban oil and gas drilling.

Laura Robinson is with Citizens for Oil Free Backyards.

She says this is not just a "NIMBY" movement.

NIMBY stands for "Not In My Backyard."

Congressman John Conyers is asking federal housing officials to issue a six-month moratorium on new foreclosures in Detroit.

The moratorium would only apply to home mortgages financed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac that were in good standing before the city filed for bankruptcy.

Conyers sent the request to the nation's new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Melvin Watt.

Photo courtesy of Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS

The National Wildlife Federation says climate change and global warming are threatening a number of Michigan species.

The environmental group says there are clear signs of trouble for native species that need cooler weather to reproduce.

That includes brook trout, lake sturgeon, and moose.

The Federation's Brenda Archambo says it's time to stop treating global warming as a political issue.

"There are, sadly, a number of people who have decision-making authority that continue to refuse to put solutions in place that actually can change the course we are on," Archambo says. "And we are out of time."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has posted online the results of additional tests performed by GM engineers on recalled Cobalts, HHRs, Ions, and Solstices.

The cars have defective ignition switches that can turn into the "accessory" or off position if a) there is extra weight on the key ring, and b) the switch is jarred, by the car going over rough terrain, for example.

John Conyers office

Wayne County clerk Cathy Garrett says Congressman John Conyers of Detroit did not collect enough signatures to be placed on the August 5 primary ballot.

Garrett says her office investigated the Democrat's petitions. She says only 592 of the necessary 1000 signatures are valid. Many others were disqualified because the people collecting the signatures were not registered voters.

Chrysler posted a loss of $690 million in the first quarter of 2014, largely due to one-time costs associated with a stock buyout.

Chrysler and its Italian partner Fiat purchased the 41.5% of the shares of Chrysler held by a union retiree health care trust.

The deal set the stage for the two to merge, forming a new company – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

From a purely sales perspective, Chrysler did well in the first quarter. Sales rose 10% from the same period last year, and the automaker's market share rose a full percent.

An Indian manufacturing company is expanding into Michigan.

Mahindra Group will locate  its technical research facility in Troy – and a manufacturing facility in Ann Arbor.

Mahindra's first product in the U.S. will be an electric scooter called the "GenZe."

The scooter is designed for modern urban and campus commuting.  It will get up to 30 miles on a charge, and the battery can be removed and plugged into a regular 110-volt outlet.

Two more big recalls today, this time by Ford Motor Company and Chrysler.

Both companies say they are unaware of any injuries or accidents related to the issues.

Chrysler is recalling about 780-thousand newer model minivans for window switches that can overheat and catch fire.

It's a big day for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The Italian-American company's CEO, Sergio Marchionne,  will outline a strategic plan for the next five years.

The marriage between Chrysler and Fiat surprised many in the auto industry just by surviving.

Now the company is strengthening that union, by exporting its strongest brands around the world.

When Fiat agreed to a kind of corporate shotgun marriage with a fresh-out-of-bankruptcy Chrysler five years ago, a lot of people thought Fiat's CEO Sergio Marchionne was crazy to do it.

Tracy Samilton

Mark Fields will become Ford's CEO on July 1, replacing Alan Mulally, who was hired in 2006.

The automaker was posting massive losses at the time.

One of Mulally's first moves was to insist that his executives honestly disclose problems at a required weekly meeting, using a red-coded slide for "big problem!"

Ali Elisabeth Lapetina

Turning seagoing shipping containers into residences isn't a new idea for Detroit.

But for the first time, such a home will become a reality.

The project is the brainchild of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, which has a farm in Detroit.

Vice president Darin McLeskey says the container will be placed where a blighted home once stood.

"So it's another way to trim the cost of clearing out blight – by leaving utilities and a foundation in place," he said at a press conference at GM's Detroit Hamtramck plant.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is asking Congress to approve higher penalties for car companies that delay recalls.

The request is part of a proposed $300 billion long-term transportation budget for U.S. road, bridge, and transit projects.

Right now, the most the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can fine a car company over a delayed recall is $35 million.

Foxx proposes Congress should increase that to $300 million.

A Ford assembly plant in Kansas City.
Ford Motor Company / Flickr

Ford Motor Company's first quarter 2014 profit fell 39% from the same period last year due to a combination of factors, including currency problems in Venezuela, and higher costs for warranty claims and recalls.

Ford made $989 million net income in the first three months of the year.

Ford Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks says some of the decline was foreseen.

The automaker is launching more vehicles (23) this year than any time in its history.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

In Michigan, 60.2% of people are in the labor force, according to a new state report.

The number is essentially unchanged from a year ago.

University of Michigan economist Don Grimes says at least 67% of Michigan's population should be in the labor force this many years after a recession.

He says people in their 20s, and people in their mid to late 50s, are having the most trouble finding work, both in Michigan and nationwide.

Lincoln Park had $4.5 million dollars in its general fund three years ago.

Today, the city has a deficit of nearly $90,000, raising alarm among state officials about how fast it has spent all its money.

Gov. Rick Snyder says he agrees with the Michigan Treasury that a state of financial emergency exists.

Lincoln Park officials say the city is on track to run up at least a $1 million deficit this year. The amount will be higher if the city can't strike a deal on concessions from city workers.

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.

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