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. 

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.

Henry Ford at 150

Jul 29, 2013
Image from the Collections of The Henry Ford

Ford Motor Company celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henry Ford this week.

Bill Ford, Jr. is Henry Ford's great-grandson, and Executive Chairman of the company

Ford says the founder would have been pleased that his company is still a family business, 150 years later.

“I know Henry Ford would have been incredibly proud of the way his grandchildren led the company through the most difficult times,” says Ford

Ford Motor Company took out a $24 billion loan in 2006, using its trademark blue oval as part of the collateral.

General Motors

General Motors is number two in global auto sales so far this year, just behind Toyota, and just in front of Volkswagon.

So why didn't GM make more money than its Dearborn rival, Ford Motor Company, in the second quarter?

Both companies made $1.2 billion, but Ford made that money based on a lower volume of sales.

Ford Motor Company's official website

Have you looked at a Ford financial report lately?

Ford Motor Company posted its 16th consecutive quarter of profitability on Wednesday.  The company made $1.2 billion dollars, driven by strong results in North America, combined with improved results in every other region of the world.

Ford is still losing money in Europe, as expected, due to the region's protracted recession.  But even in Europe, there is some good news.

user: whitneyinchicago / Flickr

We know the question everyone has been asking about the impending arrival of a new member of the British royal family. 

No, of course it's not, will it be a girl or a boy. We are, after all, public radio consumers. What we really want to know is: What will the economic impact of the royal birth be on the U.K. economy?

Bentley Library

The University of Michigan's board of regents named seven faculty members this week to serve on a presidential search committee.

The current U of M president, Mary Sue Coleman, will retire next year.

The faculty members will serve in addition to the eight regents.

The search committee looks very different than it did in 2002, when Coleman was selected. Then, the search committee was more diverse. Besides faculty, the committee included a custodial supervisor, the head of the U of M Alumni Association, and two undergraduate students.

Bioartography Project / University of Michigan

Visitors to the Ann Arbor Art Fair saw some unusual art if they stopped by the University of Michigan Health System's booth this week. The Bioartography project features images of cells taken under a microscope.

Researcher Deborah Gumucio is director of the project. She says just about all of the images that doctors, post-docs and other researchers submit are incredibly beautiful, resembling abstract art. A panel of artists sorts through and selects the best.

Alana Holland / Michigan Radio

The board of regents of the University of Michigan has approved in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants who live in Michigan. The policy change follows two years of intense lobbying by undocumented students and supporters.

Undocumented students will have to show they attended middle school and high school in Michigan to get the lower tuition rate. For the 2013-14 year, in-state tuition for a freshman undergraduate will be $13,142. The out-of-state tuition rate is $40,392. 

Alana Holland / Michigan Radio

With the touch of a button, a massive two-story-tall bay door opens slowly, as an insistent alarm sounds, to reveal part of the former Willow Run bomber plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan. A heavy waft of must and dampness rushes out from the dark interior.

Once, scores of B-24 bombers exited these bay doors, on their way to aid the American war effort. 

"It works better than my garage door back home," says Grant Trigger with a grin, as the more than 60-year-old doors lift.

Trigger is the Michigan Cleanup Manager for RACER Trust, which handles the vacant GM Willow Run Assembly Plant, along with scores of other properties abandoned by the automaker as part of its bankruptcy reorganization in 2009. 

The factory began its life as a Ford Motor Company World War II factory, famous for being the place where Rosie the Riveter worked. GM later bought the plant and converted it to make automobiles.

But soon it will be demolished, unless a modest museum can raise more than $4.5 million in the next 15 days.

Chrysler

When Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was given control of Chrysler in 2009, it wasn't just the Detroit automaker's cars that needed to be improved. Many of Chrysler's factories were sorely in need of upgrades, too.

This week, Chrysler will give tours to media to show off an $850 million renovation of the Sterling Heights Assembly plant, which includes a built-from-the-ground-up new paint shop.

On Thursday, Chrysler will offer media a chance to see the upgraded Toledo Assembly plant, where the new Jeep Cherokee is being built.

Ford Motor Company

Consumers aren't the only folks to get scared and pull tight the purse strings during (and after) deep recessions.

Auto industry executives do it, too.

A survey by EY (formerly Ernst and Young) found that despite a dramatic increase in optimism about the economy, many auto industry executives say they're delaying big investments in acquisitions, equipment, and jobs.

52% in the most recent EY survey said the economy is improving - up from 22% just six months ago.

The National Wildlife Federation is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the agency's new ballast water discharge permit.

The EPA will require ships entering the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters to get a permit, before dumping their ballast water.

But the environmental group says the permit is weak and won't keep new non-native species from getting into the lakes.

Marc Smith is senior policy manager for the environmental group.

Marianne Udow-Phillips is Director of the University of Michigan's Center for Healthcare Research.
user mudowp / Twitter

A new survey by the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation (CHRT) finds Medicaid recipients are the happiest with their health insurance. 

65% of people with Medicaid insurance rated it as very good or excellent - compared to  54% with Medicare insurance. 

51% of people with employer-based insurance rated it as very good or excellent. 

The lowest number was among the individually-insured group - those are people who buy their own insurance.  Only 43% said it was very good or excellent.

media.gm.com / staff

General Motors and Honda are joining together to develop cars that run on hydrogen.

The two companies are leaders in fuel cell technology, which is still many years away from being viable --and affordable.

GM and Honda have had some joint projects before, although combining fuel cell car programs is the most ambitious.

The two companies together have only about 200 of the cars on the road, which generate electricity in a hydrogen fuel cell.

Long-disused factories, rotting warehouses, and weed-infested and abandoned gas stations plague many neighborhoods in Michigan cities like Flint, Saginaw, Detroit, and Muskegon. 

And when the original builder can't be found - or has declared bankruptcy - taxpayers are often left paying the bill to tear the dangerous structures down. 

Why not make companies buy  "blight insurance" policies to prevent that from happening in the future?  That's the proposal in a new report by Michigan State University researcher Rex LaMore.

More than 28 percent of all trucks registered in the United States – 2.5 million of 8.6 million trucks - are now equipped with advanced new technology clean diesel engines, according to new data compiled by R.L. Polk and Company for the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF).

Chronic illnesses take a huge toll, both on the patient suffering from them, and on the overall health care system in the form of much higher health care costs.

Ford Motor Company says 61% of its health care costs are from employees who suffer from at least one, but often multiple, chronic illnesses. Those include heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and asthma.

The company hopes to reduce those costs, while improving the quality of life for the people burdened by chronic illness.

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