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Dearborn F150 factory
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Ford Motor Company of Dearborn on Thursday reported a record first quarter profit of $2.5 billion, far exceeding analysts' expectations.

General Motors had a good first quarter too, reporting $2 billion in profit, and Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler made $540 million.

All three companies are benefiting from the boom in U.S. sales of SUVs and pickup trucks. 

Gasoline prices remain low, and automakers have made great strides improving fuel economy  for larger vehicles. 

Ford worker, Livonia Assembly
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company's investment of $1.4 billion will upgrade its Livonia Transmission plant to build a new, more fuel-efficient 10-speed transmission for some models of F-150 trucks.  

At the same time, Ford is also building a new factory in Mexico, part of a strategy to build SUVs and trucks in the U.S. and cars in Mexico. 

The UAW doesn't like that strategy, but Ford points out it still employs more than 55,000 hourly workers in the U.S.  That's more than any other automaker in the country.

Clyde Robinson / Creative Commons

Repossession companies want lawmakers to block a bill they say will harm their business and consumers.

The package of bills, SB 656 and 657, would exempt companies that serve as middle-men between lenders and the people who actually repossess cars from having to get a license to operate as debt collectors in Michigan.

user: mariordo / Wikimedia Commons

Federal safety regulators have told Google the computer in their self-driving car can be considered the driver - in lieu of a human.

One analyst says that decision is a "launching pad" for the technology.

Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says many regulations were written long before the self-driving car was a twinkle in Google founder Larry Page's eye. So recognizing the computer as the driver helps to make the technology feasible.

A shifter like the one shown here has confused consumers, resulting in the recall of more than 800,000 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles.
Mike Durand / creative commons

U.S. car safety regulators are investigating electronic gear shifters in more than 850,000 newer model Fiat Chrysler vehicles. 

Driver problems with the shifters have caused 121 crashes and 30 injuries. 

The shifters are apparently so confusing that drivers have exited the vehicles while they're in gear. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the shifters' operation is not intuitive and provides poor feedback to the driver. 

A few accidents caused by the rollaway vehicles resulted in hospitalizations. 

Toyota

General Motors announced Wednesday it made a record profit of $7.9 billion in 2015. 

CEO Mary Barra told investors she thinks the good times will continue in 2016 and beyond. 

"There's been a lot written about the U.S. industry being at peak levels and that a downturn is imminent," Barra said. "We like many others do not share this view."

GM's record profit means a record profit-sharing check for UAW hourly workers, as well. Many will get $11,000 in the next month or so.

IFCAR / Wikipedia/public domain

Ford Motor Company made a record $7.4 billion in 2015, largely on the basis of profits in North America and despite a very big loss of $832 million in South America.

Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks says the automaker also made a record pre-tax profit of $765 million in the Asia Pacific region – and the automaker returned to profitability in Europe for the first since 2011.

UAW hourly workers will share in the good news.

The color of this Buick Avista concept car caught the eye of Cynthia Canty at the 2016 National American International Auto Show.
Photo by Steve Fecht for Buick

    

When looking for a new set of wheels, does the color make the car? Or does the color take a back seat to the car's design or what's under the hood?

Car enthusiasts who attended the North American International Auto Show in Detroit had a number of vehicles catch their eyes and the color of the car, likely, played a big role in that.

Bull-doser / wikimedia/public domain

Fiat Chrysler is making some tweaks to its current five-year plan.  And some of those tweaks are pretty big. 

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the company will double down on increasing its ability to churn out Jeeps and trucks.  In the U.S., he says the trend is clear.  

"There's been in our view a permanent shift towards UVs (utility vehicles) and pickup trucks," Marchionne told analysts during an earnings conference call.

Creative Commons

One of the six "bellwether" ignition switch lawsuits against General Motors has been dismissed, after evidence was presented showing that the plaintiff lied about the timing and extent of his injuries and his financial damages.

GM faces hundreds of lawsuits across the country alleging various harms from its delay of a massive recall for faulty ignition switches.  The switches can suddenly turn off if bumped, disabling the power steering and the airbags. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new poll from the University of Michigan says most parents have strict rules for teen drivers.  

Researchers say teen drivers are vulnerable to distractions.  

They say it’s important for parents to set rules to reduce those distractions.  

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health finds a majority of parents strictly forbid teen drivers from talking on cell phones or texting. Most also put limits on the number of passengers, as well as where and when teens can drive.

General Motors

General Motors is launching its first new brand in 20 years.

But it's not a car brand.

"Maven" is GM's new personal mobility service.

The new brand is in response to a trend, slight but noticeable and growing, of millennials and urban residents deciding car ownership isn't worth the cost or hassle. 

But they still need to get around. Peter Kosack is GM's head of Urban Mobility. He says Maven will give customers easy access to car-sharing and ride-sharing services.

Volvo

Usually, the biggest buzz at the North American International Auto Show surrounds a vehicle.

This year, you could argue the big buzz was about a trend: The race toward self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that President Obama would seek $3.9 billion in the next federal budget to encourage the development of autonomous vehicles, which Foxx says show the potential to save thousands of lives.

Semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the road, with more to come.

Chevrolet Corvette
Anthony Brown / Michigan Radio

During the press days of the North American International Auto Show, Detroit's Big Three unveiled their latest 2016 models and made announcements about what's to come. Here are the highlights of what GM, Ford, and Chrysler brought up on stage and displayed on their stands.

MARIORDO / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Autonomous vehicles promise to dramatically reduce congestion in large cities and save thousands of lives, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

That's why the Obama administration will ask Congress to budget $3.9 billion over the next ten years to help spur the development of the technologies that enable cars to drive themselves.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company just can't seem to get investors to believe.

The company likely had its most profitable year ever in 2015.

On Tuesday, Ford announced a special dividend supplement of a billion dollars. 

And its stock fell. 

At the 2016 Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Ford CEO Mark Fields said he is not discouraged, despite the company's persistently low stock price on average.

media.fcanorthamerica.com

 Fiat-Chrysler has introduced its new version of an old concept: the minivan.

The automaker unveiled the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show on Monday.

Chrysler says the “top-to-bottom” redesign features a sleeker exterior that’s much like the Chrysler 200, with dual-side sliding doors and added interior bonuses.

It will also offer a plug-in hybrid version that the automaker claims will get 80 miles to the gallon highway mileage.

Ford Motor Company

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles navigate using technologies to detect lane markers to stay on course.

But what happens when those lane markers are covered with snow?

Engineers with the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Company say their new research shows it's possible for a self-driving car to get around using highly detailed 3D maps of everything that surrounds the vehicle.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

In his first U.S. press conference since being named CEO of Volkswagen, Matthias Mueller said he planned to submit a "package" of solutions to remedy the company's deliberate installation of devices that disable emissions controls in 600,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S.

Volkswagen also installed the devices in millions of its vehicles globally.

"It is not only our cars we have to fix," Mueller told a crowd of automotive reporters Sunday night, "we know we have to repair our credibility, too."

ford, dash board, car
antefixus21/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The march of technology continues, bringing us closer to the day when owning your own car may be less important than on-demand transportation services.  And closer to the day when we expect our cars to be super-connected to just about everything.

Automakers are laying the groundwork for this new era, as seen in some  announcements this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz / Creative Commons

The federal government says it has reached an impasse in talks with Volkswagen over penalties for emissions cheating. 

So the government is suing the automaker. 

The Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court in Detroit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that Volkswagen installed software in 600,000 so-called "clean diesel" cars that sensed when an emissions test was being performed. 

  NEW YORK (AP) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is recalling nearly 450,000 SUVs worldwide in two separate recalls that includes the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

  The automaker said Thursday about 353,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs with model years 2011-2012 are being recalled because wiring in the vanity mirror may overheat and create a fire hazard. No injuries or accidents were reported.

The National Safety Council has a grim prediction: 307 people will die in traffic accidents over the three-day Christmas holiday period.

And 346 will lose their lives over the three-day New Year's holiday period. 

A combination of low gas prices, lower unemployment, and good driving weather means more people will be on the road, increasing the risk of fatal accidents.

Ken Kolosh manages the statistics group for the National Safety Council.

He says many of the deaths are preventable.  Take the very simple act of buckling up in the car. 

Flickr

Driverless cars are racking up more than double the number of accidents as conventional cars with a human behind the wheel. 

But "it's a complicated message," says Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

His study shows that driverless cars get in 9.1 crashes per million miles driven. 

But here's the really interesting part.  The accidents have all been minor - the worst injury was whiplash - and the crashes were all caused by human drivers plowing into the back of the driverless cars. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) - Union members at a major Michigan auto parts supplier have approved a five-year contract.

The United Auto Workers says the deal with Nexteer Automotive was approved by 61 percent of workers who cast ballots. The results were announced early Saturday.

  Nexteer makes steering systems for General Motors, Ford Motor and other auto companies. It has roughly 3,000 UAW-represented employees in the Saginaw area, 100 miles north of Detroit.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

UAW employees at Nexteer in Saginaw County are voting on a new contract today.   A ‘No’ vote could affect General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.  

This is the second time around for Nexteer’s three thousand workers at its Buena Vista plant. They resoundingly rejected a previous deal and walked picket lines for a day before this new offer.

Nexteer supplies steering and driveline systems to General Motors. It also supplies parts to Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota.

The contract includes a two thousand dollar signing bonus, as well as a wage increase. 

Ford Motor Co.

Hybrid and electric car sales right now are weak.  That's not surprising, given that the price of a gallon of gasoline is averaging under $2 a gallon in 41 states.

So why is Ford upping the ante on electrification?

There's only one domestic carmaker among the North American Car and Truck of the Year finalists this year.

Votes have been cast by an independent panel of auto journalists from the U.S. and Canada, and the winners will be announced in January at the 2016 North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Click through the slideshow above to see this year's finalists.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Nexteer workers are back on the job.

Less than 24 hours after members of UAW local 699 walked out of the Buena Vista plant, the strike is over. 

The union announced on its Facebook page Tuesday night that it has reached a tentative contract with the auto parts supplier.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A major General Motors parts supplier is on strike.

Members of United Auto Workers local 699 walked off the job at Nexteer in Saginaw County just after midnight.   

Nexteer supplies steering and driveline systems to General Motors.   It also supplies parts to Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota.

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