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The hottest topic in the auto industry in 2016?  It's no contest, says Michelle Krebs of Autotrader. 

Self-driving or autonomous cars captured most of the biggest headlines, from a deadly accident involving a semi-autonomous Tesla car, to General Motors' announcement last week that it would test self-driving Chevy Bolts on metro Detroit roads in 2017.

Krebs says some of the buzz is just that - buzz.  But she has been impressed by the pace of developments, with Google, Uber, GM, and others all in some stage of testing autonomous vehicles on public roadways.

flickr

U.S. car companies are unlikely to get much relief from strict fuel economy standards under the next administration.

That's according to Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book.

She says car companies already did most of the work required for the year 2022.  They're unlikely to throw it all away and start over if the standards change.

"You know, it's like training for a marathon," says Lindland, "and then saying, 'Oh, no, sorry, just kidding.  It's only a 10k.'"

wikimedia commons

The upcoming North American International Auto Show might be more notable for the topics of discussion than the vehicles.

That's according to analyst Michelle Krebs of AutoTrader.

She says there's a lot going on right now, like the need for car companies to transition to mobility companies, as self-driving cars come closer to being a reality.  Then there's the transition to a new president.

While still the best-selling sedan in U.S., Toyota Camry sales dropped 10% in 2016.
Toyota

In 2015, for the first time ever, compact SUVs outsold sedans in the U.S.

Consumers continued to ditch sedans for SUVs this year. For example, while still the best-selling sedan in the U.S., sales of the Toyota Camry dropped ten percent in 2016. 

Sales of other formerly popular sedans plummeted even further. 

Michelle Krebs of Autotrader says gas prices remain low, and SUVs are a lot more fuel efficient than they used to be.

car gear shift
Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Federal auto safety regulators have launched an investigation into the safety of some of Fiat Chrysler's newer model trucks and SUVs.

The investigation involves about a million 2013 to 2016 model year Ram pickups and 2014 to 2016 Dodge Durango SUVs. 

2013 North American International Auto Show
wikimedia user F. D. Richards / wikimedia user F. D. Richards

Michigan has historically had an uphill climb to attract investor dollars.

But that’s changing.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes says the smart money is placing bets on Detroit and on Michigan, and that's changing the narrative of both.

flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a proposed rule that would require vehicle-to-vehicle technology, or V2V, to be standard on all cars.

There's a 90-day public comment on the proposal.

V2V technology allows cars to send wi-fi signals to each other, and another feature, automatic braking –which U.S. automakers have already voluntarily agreed to make standard – prevents crashes based on the signals. 

Ford autonomous test vehicle
Ford Motor Company

 

In the race to develop self-driving technology, Michigan and Silicon Valley are not the only games in town.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes is just back from Pittsburgh, where he got to take a look at what they’re working on down in Steel City.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A Kansas City-based developer is buying nearly 260 acres of former General Motors land in Lansing.

The vacant land is being sold by the Racer Trust, which is disposing of GM properties separated from the automaker during its 2009 bankruptcy. 

Chad Meyer is the CEO of NorthPoint Development. He says the company plans to redevelop the land for industrial use, but declined to give specifics or a timetable.

“It’s typically [the] more manufacturing investment intensive [the] project is, the longer it takes to get those details worked through,” says Meyer.

Computer rendering of overpasses at American Center for Mobility.
State of Michigan

Willow Run is more than 330 acres of crumbling concrete and weeds today. 

But the site of the B-24 bomber assembly plant during World War II will soon be transformed  into miles of roads, highways, overpasses, and nighttime lighting, where the self-driving and connected cars of the future will be developed and tested. 

At the groundbreaking Monday, Governor Rick Snyder said the project will keep Michigan in the driver's seat as the world changes.

Bill Ford at Web Summit 2015 in Dublin, Ireland
flickr user Web Summit / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

 

In a little over two months, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes is digging into what that could mean for our auto industry.

GM plans to layoff 2,000 employees

Nov 10, 2016
Courtesy C_osett / Creative Commons -- http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

General Motors says it will layoff more than 2,000 employees while making investments in current plants.

According to a statement released on Wednesday, the company said the layoffs stems from a customer shift from cars to crossover and truck vehicles.

As the customer shift from cars to crossovers and trucks is projected to continue, GM will suspend the third shift of production at both facilities in the first quarter of 2017.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company made $1 billion during the third quarter, down $1.2 billion from its record third quarter earnings last year.

The automaker says the lower profit was driven primarily by three things:

General Motors' Chevy Bolt is expected to be in showrooms by the end of the year.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

With a new development in the march to lead the mobility movement, we check in with Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes.

Howes joined Stateside to talk about his latest column "Tough auto game challenges Silicon Valley stars" where he says Silicon Valley has gotten a reality check in terms of what it takes to get a vehicle to market on schedule.

teenage driver
flickr.com

In the past decade, fatal car crashes for teen drivers ages 18 to 20 haven't declined as much as those for younger teens, ages 15 to 17.

That's according to a study commissioned by Ford Safe Driving for Life, a program to teach teens to be safer drivers.

Jim Graham is Manager of the program.  He says the problem appears to be that more teens are waiting until they are 18 or older to get their license.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint is getting millions of dollars from the federal government to help reclaim former auto plant sites.

Buick City and Chevy in the Hole were once major auto production centers in Flint. Now, the two empty industrial sites are slowly being reclaimed.

The $2.5 million grant will help with building a new automotive research center in Flint. Kettering University is developing part of the old Chevy in the Hole site for research into new mobility technology.

Ford autonomous test vehicle
Ford Motor Company

Picture the starting line at a foot race. In one lane, you've got the auto companies and the supply side. In the other lane, Silicon Valley heavyweights and enterprising start-ups. At the finish line: who gets the big momentum and the money.

The future of the mobility business is ride-sharing and self-driving vehicles which could be a multi-trillion-dollar worldwide industry. So there is a lot on the line. 

Ford autonomous test vehicle
Ford Motor Company

Last week the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx made the rounds through the news outlets, excitedly talking about new guidelines for autonomous cars.

But Foxx admitted there's a lot not covered in the guidelines because there's a lot the auto industry and the government have yet to figure out.

NPR’s Sonari Glinton joined us today to talk about the secretary’s comments, and the ongoing push toward autonomous vehicles.

University of Michigan

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued federal policy for automated, or self-driving vehicles, to spur innovation while taking a proactive approach to safety.

"Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.

Reporters getting a closer look at the Chevy Bolt concept.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Many people are open to the idea of buying an electric car, according to a just-released survey by the Consumer Federation of America.

Thirty-six percent of people who don't know much about electric cars said they'd be interested in buying one someday; 57% who do know a fair bit about electric cars said the same.

Unifor members at a rally in Canada
Unifor

Unifor, the union that represents most Canadian auto workers, says it has reached a tentative contract with General Motors after "round the clock negotiations." The strike deadline was 11:59 p.m Monday.

The terms of the deal include a major concession by Unifor, according to the CBC:

A major concession in the talks was an agreement by the union to convert all new employees to a defined contribution pension plan. That's different from the defined benefit plans that legacy employees all have. 

Wind turbine.
Tim Wang / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

General Motors has committed to using electricity solely from wind, solar or biogas for all of its 350 operations in 59 countries around the world -- within the next 34 years.

CEO Mary Barra says it "helps us better serve society by reducing environmental impact." 

The automaker says it used about 9 terawatt hours of electricity in 2015 to build its vehicles and power its offices, technical centers and warehouses globally.  A terawatt equals a trillion watts.

Sam VarnHagen / Ford Motor Co.

Ford Motor Company is by no means the only automaker moving production of small cars to Mexico.

Ford confirmed this week it will move the last of its small car production to Mexico, where labor costs are significantly lower than in the U.S.  But many other companies have been doing the same.

And suppliers have wasted no time in expanding in Mexico to serve the new factories.

Ford Motor Co. is moving all of its U.S. small car production to Mexico

Sep 14, 2016
CC-BY-CarImages / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Ford's small car production is moving to Mexico.

Ford CEO Mark Fields confirmed the move today during an event for investors and Wall Street analysts.

Ford can build the cars for less money by paying lower wages in Mexico.

Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor for news at Kelley Blue Book,  said the move is part of an industry-wide trend.

"Behind it are the rather slim margins on small cars in general," said DeLorenzo.

Unifor members at a rally in Canada
Unifor

Unifor will sit down at the bargaining table with General Motors first in its upcoming contract talks with Detroit-based car companies.

The talks could be even more tense than usual. 

That's because union leaders suspect GM may have long-term plans to pull more jobs out of Canada. 

Unifor wants GM to promise new models for its Oshawa plant, but GM is balking. 

Harley Shaiken is a labor expert at the University of California-Berkley. He says it makes sense the union is worried about losing more jobs.

Ford Motor Company

This is a very busy weekend on Michigan highways.  

But in the future, many of the vehicles on the road won’t have a person behind the wheel.

The state senate is expected act quickly on a package of bills to loosen rules governing autonomous vehicles.

Kirk Steudle is the head of the Michigan Department of Transportation.  

He believes autonomous cars will eventually reduce fatalities on Michigan roads.

Steudle wants automakers to have more leeway to test driverless cars in Michigan.

Ford Motor Company's self-driving vehicle
Ford Motor Company

Michigan is edging closer to clearing the road for driverless cars.

A state Senate committee approved a package of four bills that loosen existing rules for autonomous vehicles. The state created rules for driverless cars just a few years ago. But evolving technology has apparently made those rules “obsolete.”

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Ford announced this week it's joining forces with four tech companies and doubling its staff in Silicon Valley. 

Their goal is to put a fully self-driving - that means no steering wheel and no gas or brake pedals - on the road by 2021.

In his Detroit News column todayDaniel Howes  wrote that Ford's move is a sign that, "your father's auto industry is gone and it's not coming back."

Detroit skyline as viewed from Windsor, Ontario
flickr user Michael Stout / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The ties between Michigan and Ontario just got stronger. 

Governor Rick Snyder and Ontario Premier Kathleen Winne recently signed an agreement to set up an alliance between the auto industries of Michigan and Ontario. 

Ontario Minister of Economic Growth and Alliance Brad Duguid joined us today to talk about the two regions' strengths and weaknesses in the auto industry, and why, given the choice, Ontario and Michigan chose to work together rather than compete with each other. 

A visit to the Automobile Laundry in 1913 would have run you $1.50, Stone told us. That's equivalent to $36.46 today.
Public Domain

So here you are, the first on your block to buy Henry Ford's Model T. 

But roads are often dirt-covered, getting your newfangled automobile all grubby. And maybe you don't feel like hauling out buckets of water to wash it. 

If you lived in Detroit in 1914, you had a solution: take your care to the Automobile Laundry, the very first automated car wash in the country. 

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