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. 

Tracy Samilton

Hitting the open road in an RV may seem as American as apple pie -- but in Germany, the activity known as "caravaning" is  -- well, as German as apple strudel.

Thousands of caravanners make their vacation pilgrimage to the Rhine River every year, a favorite destination. 

Whether it's a vineyard that's set aside semi-permanent places for customers who own RVs and trailers, or an overnight RV campsite that is little more than a parking lot - all boast a million dollar view, at a bargain price.

Elio Motors

The state legislature has approved a bill to change Michigan's motorcycle laws.  The change will let Elio (pronounced EE-lee-oh) Motors sell a three-wheeled car in the state, without requiring buyers to take a motorcycle safety test, known as a motorcycle endorsement.

The "Elio" is technically a motorcycle because it has three wheels and weighs less than 1,600 pounds. Nonetheless, it is a car, with car safety features like airbags.

Inside the Packard Plant
Angelique DuLong

The $6 million bid for Detroit's blighted Packard Plant site sounded too good to be true.

And it was.  

After issuing an incoherent statement about her intentions, a Texas doctor who made the astonishing bid for one of the city's most infamous eyesores failed to send a $2 million dollar "good faith" payment to Wayne County.

The county is now in talks with the second highest bidder - a man who also failed to make good on a previous offer for the property.

automotiveauto.info

All three Detroit automakers had a solid third quarter.

Chrysler, the smallest of the three, made $464 million, despite a two-month delay in shipping the new Jeep Cherokee, which was plagued with quality issues.  Most dealers will have the cars by mid-November.  CEO Sergio Marchionne says he has higher expectations for profits in the fourth quarter. 

The former Yankee Air Museum's headquarters at Willow Run Airport burned in 2004. Three historic aircraft were saved, but many artifacts, tools, and other museum pieces were lost.
Yankee Air Museum

Historians say Henry Ford reluctantly became part of the American war effort during World War II.

But once he acquiesced, his huge bomber plant in Ypsilanti made a big difference in the ability of American pilots to fight the air war.

By 1945, the Ford signature efficiency and moving assembly line was turning out a bomber every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Michigan Radio

Fifty-eight percent of people in a new poll say they support raising the minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $10 an hour.

The poll was conducted by Marketing Resource Group and Mitchell Research and Communications, and commissioned by Inside Michigan Politics.

Bill Ballenger is with Inside Michigan Politics.  He says it made sense to do the poll now, given the push on both the national and state level on the issue.

Sttate Representative Rashida Tlaib has introduced a bill that would raise Michigan's minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $10.00 an hour by the year 2016.

Toyota

Toyota is recalling approximately 803,000 model year 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, and Venza vehicles due to a problem that could result in air bag failure.

From the company's press release:

In the involved vehicles, water from the air conditioning condenser unit housing could leak onto the airbag control module and cause a short circuit, resulting in illumination of the airbag warning light. In some instances, the air bag(s) could become disabled or could inadvertently deploy.

Prison bars
Ken Mayer / Flickr

A group of young male prisoners is suing the state of Michigan.

The prisoners allege they were subjected to sexual harassment, rape, and in some instances sexual trafficking, as a result of the state's policy of housing juvenile offenders age 17 and younger in the same facility as adult offenders.

"Placing children in adult facilities puts them at five times a greater risk of rape than if you keep them in a juvenile facility," says attorney Deborah LaBelle, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the prisoners.

Michigan Radio

Updated 5:35 p.m.

After federal judge Bernard Friedman ordered a trial on the constitutionality of Michigan's ban on gay marriage, attorney Jay Kaplan called the delay a disappointment. 

Kaplan is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project.  He says going to trial could work out better in the long run.

"He’s being cautious," Kaplan says of Friedman.  "Because if he renders a good decision, you don’t want to see that decision reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and having a factual record strengthens your opinion.”

Paul Sancya / Associated Press

County clerks are preparing for a deluge of marriage license applications from gay people late this afternoon, should U.S. District Court judge Bernard Friedman issue a ruling that would allow same-sex people to marry.

But the brides and grooms-to be could be disappointed.

Ford Motor Company

In recent years, U.S. automakers have introduced a slew of appealing new compact, sub-compact and mini cars.  The trend threatens to make the "econobox" an endangered species.

Econobox is the disparaging term used by many auto analysts and reviewers, including Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com, to describe a cheaply made, no-frills small car.

Krebs says U.S. domestic car companies were caught flat-footed, with no small cars to offer during the oil crisis of the 1970s.  That left them unable to compete with Toyota and Honda's fuel-efficient and reliable small cars.

Project Hope

State officials are hoping for the best when it comes to the federal shutdown and potential default on its debt.

But they're preparing for the worst.  State agencies have been told to submit contingency plans to the budget office by next week.

The worst-case scenario is pretty grim.  

Food banks could quickly be overwhelmed if the 1.6 million people getting food assistance in Michigan lose their benefits, and tens of thousands of people on unemployment are cut off from their checks. 

General Motors

The fully self-driving or autonomous car is probably decades away.  But partly self-driving cars will be here by the end of the decade, according to General Motors.

GM invited reporters to its Milford Proving Grounds this week to drive Cadillacs equipped with prototypes of the technology - which includes radar, cameras, GPS and maps that help the car drive itself.

Chrysler

As tough new fuel economy regulations loom, automakers are scrambling to make their cars' powertrains - that's the engine, batteries, and transmission - as efficient as they can possibly be. 

But that won't be enough to meet the new standard of 49 miles per gallon average by 2025.

Cars will also have to be lighter, because in general, the lighter the car is, the less fuel it requires to move down the road.

So, automakers are looking at ways to use more aluminum and magnesium in their cars. 

automotiontv.com

It's not just "Gen Y" consumers using their smart phone apps, social media, and the internet to decide what car to buy.

Four out of five people used a broad array of digital sources of information when narrowing down their search, according to a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

About half did not have a brand preference when they began their search.

Researcher Arianne Walker says car companies need to be everywhere - because consumers are.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A new non-profit bank is opening to encourage grocery stores to locate in so-called "food deserts."

Those are places in cities, suburbs and rural areas with no farmers markets or grocery stores.

Jane Whitacre is director of the Michigan Food Policy Council. She says many other states have long taken advantage of a program that lends money to grocery stores to set up in under-served areas.

“It's really silly that a food state like Michigan hasn't already done this,” says Whitacre.

stayteen.org

Teen births in the United States hit a historic low last year, according to preliminary data.

The new data is part of a long-term trend.

The number of teen births are half what they were in 1991.

Jane Zehnder-Merrill is with the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The group advocates for policies that help children.

She says teen births are also dropping in Michigan, mainly because schools and health groups are making it a priority.

Toyota

When Toyota first introduced the Prius in Japan in 1997 and in the U.S. in 2000, the company used its image as a maker of highly reliable, high quality cars to sell the new technology to early adopters.

"The Toyota halo was the closer," says Bob Carter, Toyota's Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. Inc. 

Now the opposite is true - Prius provides the halo for Toyota.

Customer satisfaction with car companies dropped slightly from last year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI).

The index tracks how happy people are with the things they buy. 

Satisfaction dropped even more for Detroit automakers.

Claus Fornell is the founder of the index.   He says two years ago, satisfaction with Detroit car companies and Japanese competitors was a tie.  Now, there's a gap again - and it's the widest in five years.

Thornberg Investment Management

The opportunity to buy bonds from a troubled school district run by an emergency manager, in a city that's just filed for bankruptcy, may seem akin to the opportunity to get your hands on some great snake oil, or a big lot in a Florida swamp, cheap.

But one municipal bond portfolio manager thinks Detroit Public Schools' bond offering, expected tomorrow, could actually be a good deal.

"There's an extraordinary amount of interest in buying short maturity bonds with high yield," says Josh Gonze of Thornberg Investment Management based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

General Motors

GM will recall 292,879 Chevy Cruze cars from the  2011 and 2012 model years for a potential intermittent loss of partial braking power.

GM says it's aware of 27 low-speed crashes, some of which could be linked to the problem, but no injuries.

The automaker says in rare instances, a driver might have to apply extra force to the brake to get the car to stop.

The recall is for Cruze cars equipped with the 1.4 liter gasoline turbo engine and automatic transmission.

Dealers will remove and replace a microswitch in the power brake vacuum pipe assembly.

Napoleon campaign website

With the primary behind them, both top-place finishers say voters will hear plenty of specifics about how each would tackle Detroit's problems if elected mayor of the city.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon received the second largest number of votes.

"We will both present a written plan, I am sure," Napoleon told Michigan Radio's Stateside program the day after the election.  "I am in the process of finalizing mine and putting it out for the world to scrutinize."

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Honda Civic was the only one out of a group of small cars to get a "good" rating on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new small overlap front crash test. 

The safety group gives cars a "good, acceptable, marginal, or poor" rating for how well a car protects drivers and passengers in different kinds of crashes.

The small overlap situation happens when just the front corner of a car near the headlight hits something, so the force of the impact is not absorbed by the front bumper, engine and hood.

Alfred T. Palmer / U.S. Government

The historic Michigan factory where the iconic Rosie the Riveter and thousands of other women built B-24 bombers during World War II could face the wrecking ball two months from now.

A modest nonprofit is trying to raise enough money to salvage some of the massive plant, which Ford sold to General Motors after the war. The Yankee Air Museum figures the factory is the perfect place to start anew, after a devastating fire destroyed its collections in 2004.

Photo courtesy of www.epa.gov

Enbridge Energy has begun a new round of dredging in the Kalamazoo River, three years after the nation's largest inland oil spill.

The company will have to work fast to meet the government's deadline of completing the work by the end of the year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to dredge an additional 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.

The work will temporary close 12 miles of the river to the public. Enbridge has already removed about 190,000 cubic yards of sediment, as well as more than a million gallons of oil from the river.

The company does not yet have all of the permits from the state that it will need for the new project. Enbridge estimates that the new work, in addition to what it has already done, brings the cost estimate for the cleanup to nearly a billion dollars.

Wayne RESA

Updated, 9:40 p.m.  The Board of the Saginaw Intermediate School District has voted to dissolve Buena Vista Public Schools, and redraw nearby district boundaries to absorb its students.  Students will be accepted by the Frankenmuth, Saginaw and Bridgeport-Spaulding districts. 

Inkster Public Schools no longer exists - and Buena Vista School District will soon join its fate.

A state law aimed at swiftly addressing the two districts' financial problems required their immediate dissolution.

Wayne County RESA Superintendent Chris Wygant says he disagrees with the state legislature's decision to draft the law in such a way that it included Inkster.  He says an emergency manager appointment would have sufficed.

"But now we're trying to shift our thinking from all that adult stuff into what's really best for these children."

Wygant's agency dissolved the Inkster district last week, and redrew the boundaries of surrounding districts in order to absorb its roughly 1700 students, who will attend either Westwood, Wayne-Westland,  Romulus or Taylor school districts.

The Saginaw Intermediate School District will vote to eliminate the Buena Vista School District on Tuesday. 

"Transportation is a major issue, as we try to equalize as best we can," says Saginaw ISD Superintendent Richard Syrek. 

He says two of the biggest districts that will likely absorb many of Buena Vista's students are a long bus ride away.

Ford Motor Company archives / Ford

A preservation group has less than 60 days to raise enough money to save part of Henry Ford's historic Highland Park site.

The massive complex is where Ford built millions of Model T's on the first moving auto assembly line.

Ford sold the buildings to a group of investors in 1981.

Deborah Schutt is with the Woodward Avenue Action Association, which faces an October 1 deadline to complete its fundraising to buy the complex's Administration building and Executive Garage building.

"We actually have people that come from Europe and Asia that show up at the guard shack and want to come in and see Ford's Highland Park, because they've all read about it in their history books. They're amazed that they're unable to come in and access such a historic resource. People could be so proud of their heritage, we've gotta quit knocking it down!"

Schutt said the long-term hope is to use the site as part of an auto tourism center for southeast Michigan. 

Schutt envisions a bus tour, that could start from the Piquette factory, Ford's second factory, where Model Ts were laboriously hand-built, to the Highland Park facility, where they were assembled on a moving assembly line.  The final stop would be Ford's Rouge factory in Dearborn, which the company renovated, and where Ford 150s are currently assembled.  

Schutt said the project in no way is competition for Ford's Greenfield Village, which Henry Ford built to showcase the way of life that he knew as a boy - and a way of life that his inventions helped to destroy. 

user pasa47 / Flickr

Moody's Investors Service says other financially distressed cities in the U.S. are closely watching Detroit as it goes through bankruptcy.

Analyst Anne Van Praagh  of Moody's says other cities might follow Detroit's path, if the city can jettison most of its bond debt and reduce its pension obligations.

"But if Detroit finds itself bogged down in years of onerous proceedingd, or fails to materially reduce its debt, than that may actually be a deterrent for others to follow their approach," Van Praagh notes.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Buena Vista schools will become the second district to be permanently dissolved under a new state law this week.

After Buena Vista shut down without warning in May, state legislators decided they needed an additional tool to deal with fiscal emergencies besides the emergency manager law.

The new law requires financially troubled districts to prove they have enough money to make it through an entire school year. If not, they can be dissolved. That happened to Inkster's school district last week.

thecarconnection.com

Analysts are expecting a robust month for auto sales.

Jesse Toprak is an analyst with TrueCar.com.  He says July sales were good across all categories.

“But two extreme segments stand out, we see very high demand for small cars and small SUVS, and a very healthy demand for large pickup trucks,” says Toprak.

Toprak says the increase in pickup sales is being driven by small business owners, and an uptick in home renovations.

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