Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. Before beginning her journalism career, she spent time working as a legal assistant at various firms in the Ann Arbor area.

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Connected vehicles
11:34 am
Wed August 22, 2012

Brave new connected vehicle world launches at UMTRI this week (VIDEO)

UMTRI technician Stan Baldiss installing a transmitter in a study participant's vehicle
Tracy Samilton Michigan Radio

The world's largest-ever test of connected vehicle technology got underway in Ann Arbor this week.

Experts predict that our cars will one day routinely "talk" to one another with wireless communication devices -- preventing huge numbers of traffic accidents.

Already, ordinary motorists have experienced driving with the devices on closed courses.  One study was held last year at the Michigan International Speedway. 

Now, in the next step, the technology is being tested under real-world conditions.  By October, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI for short) plans to install some version of wireless car-to-car communication devices in nearly 3,000 people's cars, as well as on some city and school busses.

Traffic signal-to-car communication devices will be installed at numerous intersections; others will be mounted near potentially dangerous sections of roadway.

See a video of how the technology works: 

 

For a year, the motorists will travel their usual ways, occasionally crossing paths.

UMTRI will collect the data, which will eventually help researchers determine how well the technology works in real life.   Researchers may be able to prove that a handful of accidents were averted. 

But the real potential for the technology is when it is adopted on a wide scale, in millions of vehicles.

UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman thinks the potential to save lives is huge.

"Motor vehicle injuries and fatalities are the number one public health problem in this country -- I don't think people realize that," Sweatman says, standing in a big garage bay where technicians are installing the devices in study participants' cars.  "Between the ages of 1 and 35 - that's the no. 1 cause of death!"

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School pension reform
5:51 pm
Wed August 15, 2012

Teachers to pay more for retirement, school districts get some relief

Teachers and other school employees will soon be paying more of their salaries for health care and pensions.

Governor Snyder is expected to sign bills that require school workers to pay four or seven percent of their salaries for retirement benefits, depending on what plan they have.

School employees will also pay more for their health insurance when they retire.

Randy Richardville is State Senate Majority Leader.

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Seat belts
6:10 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

State officials remind motorists, 'Wear seat belts,' after L. Brooks doesn't

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was in the front seat and not wearing a seat belt -- in violation of state law -- when his car was struck by another driver on Friday.

Patterson sustained a broken femur and two broken wrists.

Patterson's driver was also not wearing a seat belt - nor was the driver of the Volkswagon Passat that struck Patterson's car.

Anne Readett is a spokeswoman for the state Office of Highway Safety Planning.

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11th Congressional District
4:13 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

11th congressional district - already interesting - gets more so, with Cassis decision

Cassis for Congress

Republican Nancy Cassis says she will run in the September 5th special election in the 11th Congressional District.

The election was called to fill the few months remaining in the term, after the resignation of Thaddeus McCotter.

Cassis lost the August primary as a write-in, and she can't run in November unless it's also as a write-in candidate.

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Health
2:06 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

Want kids' immunization records? There's an app for that

user Reeda Wikimedia Commons

The University of Michigan Health System is making some basic personal medical records available to patients on on the web.

Starting Wednesday,UMHS patients can go on the web or smart phone to check the results of a lab test, request a prescription refill, and other health routine matters.

Dr. Margaret Punch is in charge of the new project.

She says parents could use the portal to get their kids' immunization records, state.

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New crash test
1:39 pm
Tue August 14, 2012

New crash test means getting IIHS "top safety pick" a lot harder

Acura TL and Volvo S60-G only two midsize luxury cars to be rated "good" on small overlap crash test.
Acura

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety will probably be handing out a lot fewer of its coveted "Top Safety Pick" awards in 2014.

Not because cars will suddenly be less safe - but because of a new test the agency is requiring.  

The Insurance Institute will soon add a test for a so-called "small overlap" crash.

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Education
11:02 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools to ask voters, "should we merge?"

Superintendents and school board members from both districts meet to discuss merger
Ypsilanti Public Schools

Two struggling Michigan school districts will ask voters in November if they should merge.

Ypsilanti Public Schools has about 3,600 students; Willow Run Public Schools has about 1,600.

Both districts have serious financial problems, along with poor student test scores and low graduation rates.

Both districts' high schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law last year. 

Dedrick Martin is Superintendent of Ypsilanti Public Schools.

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Environment & Science
10:26 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Electrofishing survey finds no silver, bighead carp in Lake Erie

Don't worry, fish, I'm not gonna eat you. Fish temporarily stunned via electrofishing.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Silver and bighead carp don't appear to be living and breeding in Lake Erie - yet.

Environmental DNA from the fish was found in the lake near the Maumee River last year.  Environmental DNA comes from things like fish mucus, excrement, or scales.

But no Asian carp were captured in a recent electrofishing survey, which temporarily stuns fish with an electrical current.

Todd Kalisch is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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Health
10:08 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Risky heart CAT scans reduced 60% in study

CAT scan in progress
University of Michigan Health System

Michigan hospitals reduced the inappropriate use of a risky and expensive CAT scan by nearly 60-percent in a recent study.

Kavitha Chinnaiyan is a cardiologist at Beaumont Hospital.

She says too often, doctors order heart CAT scans just to rule out heart disease - even if their patients have no symptoms.

She says that's not a good idea - and not just because the scans cost $500 to $1,500 per scan.

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Politics & Government
8:56 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Michigan Attorney General files suit to remove 7 Detroit School Board members

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he will ask a circuit court judge to order the removal of seven members of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, because they were illegally elected - and seek an injunction to halt future Board action.

From the state's press release:                                             

"Standing up for Detroit school children
A.G. takes legal action to remove seven Detroit School Board members who were elected in violation of state law, halt future board actions

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Politics & Government
10:54 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Democrat says he can win in 11th Congressional District

Syed Taj says he'll improve the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicare and Social Security if elected
Taj for Congress

The Democrat who won Tuesday's primary in Michigan's 11th Congressional District says he thinks he can win - even though the district is considered a Republican stronghold.

Syed Taj is a doctor who lives in Canton.

He will run against Republican Kerry Bentivolio, a teacher, former National Guard member, and farmer who raises reindeer.  Bentivolio won by a wide margin with strong Tea Party support.

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Auto
3:52 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Dodge to withdraw from NASCAR racing in 2013

Dodge

Dodge will withdraw from NASCAR competition at the conclusion of the 2012 season - this after its partner Penske Racing announced earlier this year that it had decided to switch to Ford Motor Company in 2013.

Chrysler's Ralph Gilles said the company "couldn't make the pieces of the puzzle fit together" in trying to find a new racing team that would maintain the level of competition Dodge wanted to maintain.

He didn't rule out re-entering NASCAR competition at a later time.

Auto
10:55 am
Tue August 7, 2012

GM needs to take Spyker lawsuit "seriously" say experts

Dutch car company Spyker is suing General Motors for three billion dollars over the bankruptcy of GM's former brand, Saab.

Spyker says GM illegally interfered with a sale of part of Saab, and claims it was that interference which caused Saab's bankruptcy. 

GM sold Saab to Spyker in 2010, with a stipulation that Spyker would have to obtain GM's permission to sell Saab to anyone else.

Spyker almost immediately ran into financial problems trying to keep Saab afloat.  

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Energy
10:55 am
Fri August 3, 2012

States Ask Detroit: 'Build Us A Natural Gas Car, Please'

Honda's CNG Civic is the only natural gas-fueled sedan currently available in the United States. With so few CNG passenger cars on the road, pumping stations are few and far between.
Tracy Samilton for NPR

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 5:31 am

More than 20 state governors are taking an unusual step to boost the natural gas vehicle industry. Independent of the federal government, they're asking Detroit carmakers to build them a new kind of car: a midsize sedan that runs on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline.

The governors are hoping to boost demand for natural gas cars with their collective buying power. Combined, the states say they could ultimately buy thousands of CNG vehicles to replace their current vehicle fleets — if those cars were available.

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Auto
12:20 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

GM announces second quarter earnings but mum on Ewanick

Joel Ewanick receiving Green Car of the Year for the Chevy Volt
General Motors GM

GM's second quarter profit dropped from a year ago. The company made $1.5 billion, down from $2.5 billion, largely due to losses in Europe.  

The company also took an unusual step related to damage control, after a high-profile firing at the company on Sunday.

GM departed from the industry norm and only allowed analysts, not media, to ask questions during its earnings conference call.

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Business
9:46 am
Thu August 2, 2012

Don't want a smart meter? You'll have to pay for privilege

The state's biggest electricity provider says customers who don't want a smart meter will have to pay extra for the privilege.

Smart meters use radio signals to allow two-way communication between a customer's residence and the utility.

The meters let utilities know immediately who has lost power, among other things.  The company will also be able to remotely shut off power and turn it back on. 

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Auto
1:09 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

Chrysler's second quarter profit up from last year

Michigan Radio

Chrysler continues to mend.

The company's revenues increased 23 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

The company said its net income rose from $181 million to $436 million.

Last year, Chrysler's profit took a hit because the company had to pay a $551 million dollar charge to pay off its government loans early.

The good Chrysler news is expected to be followed on Tuesday by much worse news from the company's majority owner, Fiat.

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Auto
10:23 am
Wed July 25, 2012

Ford's Little Engine That Could Challenge Hybrids

The 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany featured Ford Motor Co.'s new three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which will hit the U.S. market next year.
Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Originally published on Wed July 25, 2012 9:37 am

Ford Motor Co. intends to prove that good things come in small packages — really small packages. The company has taken engine downsizing to a new level with its new three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which has been introduced in Europe and is set to hit the U.S. market next year.

The EcoBoost offers more power than many conventional four-cylinder engines, with fuel economy numbers a hybrid could envy. Early fans are calling it a modern "little engine that could," and Ford is betting that American customers are ready to embrace a three-cylinder engine.

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Auto
10:40 am
Fri July 20, 2012

Deadline day for GM retirees pension buyout offer

GM's headquarters in Detroit.
John F. Martin Creative Commons

Today is the deadline for more than 40,000 General Motors retirees to accept their former employer's offer of a lump sum buyout of their pensions.

Otherwise, their pensions will be taken over by Prudential Insurance.

GM's Randy Arrix said the change is part of the company's efforts to create what it calls a "fortress balance sheet."  Getting underfunded pensions off the books strengthens the balance sheet.

"Pension obligations are very volatile, and they're volatile because they're dependent on some things within our control like contributions, and other things that are not, said Arrix.

Some GM retirees are angry about the change, which they see as a broken promise by GM, but for others, the buyout is an opportunity to control their own money.

Auto
9:10 pm
Tue July 17, 2012

Share your car, says GM, and we'll help you do it (with Onstar)

RelayRide will allow car-renters unlock a vehicle they're renting with their smart phone
Onstar

General Motors says its On-Star customers can now use their GM cars to make some extra money - by renting out their vehicles.

Car-sharing allows someone to rent their personal vehicle to people who don't own one. Typically the borrower just needs a car for a few hours, for errands, grocery store visits or the like.

Now, GM car owners who subscribe to Onstar can rent out their cars through a car-sharing company called RelayRides.

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