Auto

Crime
2:10 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

"Operation Hot Wheels" uncovers vehicle theft ring

Arrests have been made in Detroit and San Diego after a vehicle theft ring was uncovered.

From the Associated Press:

More than a dozen people have been arrested in the theft and transporting of luxury rental cars and sport utility vehicles from the United States to Canada for shipment and sale in the Middle East.

The U.S. attorney's office in Detroit says nine people were arrested in Michigan and four others in San Diego following a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Hot Wheels."

An indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit says members of an organization rented vehicles from national chains in Michigan and Ohio and drove them into Canada.

Police reports later were filed claiming the vehicles were carjacked or stolen in Detroit.

Five vehicles were found in containers at a Montreal port awaiting shipment to Iraq.

One man still was being sought by authorities.

Auto/Economy
3:03 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Preserving auto workers' stories

Ora Calhoun started in the painting booth when she hired in at the Fisher Body plant in 1978, according to her oral history. Her story has been cataloged by MSU.
MSU

The United Auto Workers and Michigan State University collected oral histories from about 125 workers, managers, and others connected to the Fisher Body plant in Lansing.

The plant closed in 2005 after more than 70 years of production. Fisher Body in Lansing was one of the longest operating auto factories in the U.S., according to a Lansing Car Assembly Facebook page.

An MSU labor relations professor, John Beck, headed up the project.

Beck said the oral history recordings "gave a lot of people a voice that they would not have had otherwise."

From an MSU press release:

The plant’s closing in 2005 threatened to effectively bury the workers’ experiences. But through the MSU/UAW partnership, these stories – which run the gamut from first and last days on the job, to tales of racism and sexism, to statements of pride and teamwork – are now part of a digital catalogue at MSU’s G. Robert Vincent Voice Library. The catalogue is called the Lansing Auto Town Gallery.

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Housing
1:00 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Home prices up slightly nationally, but still down in Detroit

A graph showing the annual percent change in home prices from 1998 through the middle of 2011. See the bubble bursting?
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

Data released today by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices show that through June, home prices nationally were back to their early 2003 levels.

But home prices in Detroit were at pre-2000 levels. The Detroit market was down 6.6 percent when compared to the previous year.

That put's Detroit in a bad category along with some "sunbelt" cities, according to S&P/Case-Shiller:

At the other extreme, those which set new lows in 2011 include the four Sunbelt cities – Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa – as well as the weakest of all, Detroit. These shifts suggest that we are back to regional housing markets, rather than a national housing market where everything rose and fell together.

The Detroit Free Press quoted a statement from Patrick Newport, a U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight:

"Detroit, where prices have dropped nearly 50% since peaking in late 2005, remains, by far, the weakest market,” he said. “Detroit avoided a big run-up in housing prices during the boom years, but was hit hard by the recession."

Auto/Economy
5:00 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

New York Times: "Does America need manufacturing?"

As part of GM's bankruptcy, the GM Wyoming Stamping Plant was closed in June of 2009. Auctioneers sold of the contents of the plant.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

“You can drive almost anywhere in the state of Michigan – pick a point at random and start moving – and you will soon come upon the wreckage of American industry.”

That’s the first sentence in a story in this week’s New York Times Magazine about the seismic downturn in manufacturing over the past decade and its tenuous future in the U.S.

For decades, The Times says, the federal government has largely maintained a policy of letting the marketplace dictate the economy. That is, it hasn’t propped up ailing sectors of the economy nor tinkered with aid packages to strengthen niche industries the way China and Japan have maintained active hands in shaping industry.

That’s changed in recent years under the Obama administration. Notably, the federal government rescued American automobile manufacturers and parts suppliers through approximately $82 billion in loans and other incentives. In particular, the government has delivered $2.5 billion in stimulus money to 30 or so companies exploring advanced battery technology. One White House official tells The Times the battery money goes to “the far edge” of how far the federal government is going to create new jobs and boost a nascent industry.

“It’s naïve to believe that we just have to let the markets work and we’ll have a strong manufacturing base in America,” Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) tells The Times.

The alternative raises questions. What is the federal government’s new role in spurring industry? What’s its responsibility in ushering a transition to a knowledge-based economy? And, as The Times asks in its provocative headline, does America need manufacturing?

Auto/Economy
4:40 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

UAW President Bob King says country is "not broke"

UAW President spoke at the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit today. King addressed the nation's economy and current contract talks with Detroit automakers.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was there.

From Cwiek's report:

UAW President Bob King says the erosion of the American middle class threatens democracy.

King addressed a largely business-friendly crowd at the Detroit Economic Club. He says the current tax system squeezes workers the most and heightens economic inequality.

King says reforming that system and investing in education should be the country’s top priorities rather than cutting spending.

"We’re not broke. So many people seem to say…commentators and others…that we are broke. But we’re not broke. We just need to figure out how to have a fairer system and use our resources better."

The Detroit Free Press reports that King criticized the Tea Party for pushing big spending cuts. King says the economy is suffering from a lack of jobs, not over-spending.

From the Free Press:

“I don’t think the lion's share of the problem is out of control government spending,” King said today at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon in Detroit. “I think our basic problem is ... that we have an extremely unfair tax system in America right now.”

In the 1950s, King said, corporate taxes accounted for 27% of the U.S. budget. By 2010, that percentage decreased to less than 10%.

The UAW is in the middle of contract negotiations with Detroit automakers.

Sarah Cwiek reported that King "held up what he calls the 'problem-solving culture' that now exists between the UAW and automakers as a model for the larger economy.

Contract talks are expected to wrap up in September, but King told the crowd that "nobody knows when we will complete."

The Detroit Free Press reports that "King’s cautious comments come two weeks after UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said negotiations with Ford are ahead of schedule and reports last week that an early deal with General Motors is possible."

Auto/Economy
3:26 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Poll: Most oppose changes to Michigan's no-fault personal injury protection

This morning, Michigan Radio's Lester Graham released a story highlighting what could be at stake if changes are made to the personal injury protection portion of Michigan's no-fault insurance requirements.

Michigan Senators Joseph Hune (R-22nd district) and Virgil Smith (D-4th district) have sponsored legislation that would end the mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) coverage of Michigan's no-fault auto insurance law.

It means that Michigan drivers could choose what level of personal injury protection insurance they would like to buy.

Under the bills, drivers could cap their personal injury protection insurance at $50,000 - a fraction of the coverage needed should they be in serious accident.  It would also mean they would not pay into and not be eligible for funds from the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association fund, which makes the unlimited, lifetime benefits for people severely injured in a auto accident possible.

Now, a new poll sponsored by a group fighting these bills, the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault, finds the majority of Michigan voters don't want the changes.

From their press release:

The telephone survey of 600 voters by Chicago-based Glengariff Group found that 62 percent of those polled oppose limits on the amount of medical and rehabilitation care an accident victim could receive from their auto insurer; 27 percent support limits on medical and rehabilitation benefits and 11 percent were unsure. Of those opposed to limiting medical and rehabilitation auto injury benefits, 43 percent indicated strong opposition.

The Coalition's press release says "if auto insurers no longer covered injury costs for those suffering catastrophic injuries – which can cost tens of millions of dollars over the course of a lifetime – medical costs would shift from insurance companies and onto the taxpayer-funded Medicaid insurance program once family assets were depleted."

The bill to make changes to Michigan no-fault insurance law is expected to be taken up by the legislature early in September.

Economy
12:16 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

56 percent of local officials say unions are a liability to fiscal health

How do local leaders view unions? A University of Michigan survey says 56 percent of the local leaders they polled say unions are a liability to fiscal health.
UM Center for Local, State and Urban Policy

56 percent of local officials in jurisdictions that have unions believe the unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health, according to a survey released by the University of Michigan (43% reported "somewhat of a liability," and 13% reported "a significant liability").

The survey was conducted the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy from April 18 to June 10, 2011.

The Center says only 27 percent of Michigan's local governments have unions, but the vast majority of the state's population (98 percent) live in areas where their local governments have unionized employees.

The perception that these unions hurt a government's bottom line doesn't necessarily fall along party lines, according to the report:

Compared to Republican and Independent local leaders, Democratic officials are somewhat more positive about the fiscal impact of employee unions. But a surprisingly high 48 percent of the Democrats say unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health.

Thomas Ivacko told the Associated Press:

"It's a complex picture coming out from the local level," center administrator Thomas Ivacko told the AP. "Local leaders tend to say that having a union is hurting their fiscal health. . . . (But) the picture isn't all negative."

Despite the bad perception on overall fiscal health, the report says the respondents rated their relationship with the unions as generally positive:

60 percent of the local officials say the relationship between their localities and employee unions has been either good or excellent over the past 12 months, according to the statewide poll. Only 5 percent say the relationship was poor.

Auto
1:17 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Move over, Detroit Auto Show? Here comes "The Battery Show."

Michigan already has the North American International Auto Show.  

This year, the state will also host The Battery Show.  Michigan lured the advanced lithium-ion battery trade show from California. 

Of course, this is a trade show, not a consumer show, so unless you have an unusual interest in lithium-ion chemistries, you might want to stick to the Detroit Auto Show for now. 

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Economy
12:52 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Will Michigan motorists feel Hurricane Irene's wrath at the gas pumps?

Hurricane Irene's path should take the storm up the east coast, forcing nearly a dozen oil refineries to shutdown, at least temporarily
(courtesy of the National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane Irene should not have an impact on Michigan gas prices, according to an industry analyst.  The hurricane is expected to make landfall along the North Carolina coast tomorrow, before bearing down on the Jersey shore, New York and New England Sunday. 

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:07 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

GM to cut production of pickup trucks next month

GM says it will cut production of pickup trucks next month. The 2011 Chevy Silverado, GM's best-selling truck.
Tino Rossini Flickr

Disappointing economic data seems to be rolling in more frequently these days. The U.S. economy grew "a meager 1 percent" from April through July (a downgrade from an earlier 1.3 percent estimate), and unemployment numbers show no signs of improving (here's a cartoon of people looking for work in downtown Portland).

Now, news of cuts in production at GM.

From the Associated Press:

General Motors is cutting its production of pickup trucks next month, a sign that truck sales aren't as robust as the company had hoped.

A GM spokesman says the company cancelled five scheduled overtime shifts on Saturdays in September and October. He didn't know how many vehicles would be involved, but the Flint, Mich., plant where the pickups are made can produce 900 trucks per day.

Full-size pickup truck sales were up 9 percent for the year through July in the U.S., compared with a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. But that increase was smaller than the industry saw as a whole. Continuing weakness in the housing and construction sectors has dampened demand for trucks. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's best-selling truck, were up 7 percent.

Unemployment
6:43 am
Fri August 26, 2011

Most Mich. regional jobless rates increase in July

The state says seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates increased in most regions of Michigan in July.

The figures released Thursday by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget show jobless rates increased in 14 of the state's 17 major regional labor markets compared to June. Statewide, the unadjusted jobless rate in July was 11.9 percent compared to 11 percent in June.

Rates ranged from a low of 7.8 percent in the Ann Arbor region to a high of 14.1 percent in the Detroit region. The state says the seasonal jobless rate increases were less than normal for July. Temporary summer layoffs in the auto industry were fewer than typical.

Auto/Economy
3:33 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Business incubator in Muskegon celebrating success story

SVL engineer Matt Pinter (left) speaking with MAREC director Arn Boezaart (middle) and MAREC manager Doug Huesdash (right).
Amanda Pitts Grand Valley State University

An entrepreneur in Muskegon has outgrown the business incubator where his company began.

Smart Vision Lights reopened at its new location this week after more than three years at the incubator. The company develops LED lighting systems for manufacturing companies who want to take quality control photos.

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Economy
5:01 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Foreclosures & short selling pulling down Michigan home sale prices

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan home prices are still sliding thanks to banks selling foreclosed homes and short-selling others. Realty Trac reports 40 percent of all home sales in Michigan between April and June involved banks either selling foreclosed homes or short-selling other homes that were on the verge of being repossessed. That percentage is up slightly from the beginning of the year and the same time last year. 

Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac. He says the banks sold the homes at about a 40 percent discount. 

“We’re seeing the prices come lower and the discounts go higher, which is good news for buyers.  And it does indicate that the lenders maybe more willing to take a bigger loss on these properties in order to get them sold.”

Bloomquist expects repossessed homes will continue to be a drag on Michigan’s housing market for the next few years.

Economy
1:01 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Michigan retailers turning more optimistic

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new survey finds Michigan retailers are growing more optimistic that they will see their sales improve over the next three months.    

Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retailers Association.   He says the survey’s results are the most optimistic state retailers have been about the economy since the end of last year.

 "I think we’re scratching our heads a little bit over why there’s so much optimism out there…given the mixed economic news we’ve been getting. "

Cadillac Escalade most targeted by thieves
12:00 am
Thu August 25, 2011

And the most stolen vehicle is...(tear envelope)... "the Cadillac Escalade"

The Cadillac Escalade is the number one target of thieves, according to an annual study by the Highway Loss Data Institute.

The Escalade has been in the top ten for many years in a row.

Matt Moore of the Institute says his theory is, thieves like to take vehicles that are associated with high status and glamour.

"There’s probably no other vehicle which is more likely to be featured or seen when you’re watching television and see coverage of a professional athlete or actor or movie star," says Moore.

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Detroit library to conserve essentials
5:01 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Detroit Public Library seeks to preserve its most essential services

The Detroit Public Library is forming a task force to figure out how to continue to provide its most essential services to residents.

The library laid off 79 staff this spring due to revenue shortfalls. 

Now, six of its branches may close because of the staffing cuts.

Executive Director Jo Anne Mundowney says revenues will likely continue to fall.  Ninety percent of the library's revenue comes from property taxes, which are declining.

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Economy
4:09 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Detroit might close six libraries

The Richard Branch of the Detroit Public Library system. It's one of six being proposed for closure.
Detroit Public Libraries

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported last February, "libraries face a tough paradox.  People tend to use them more when the economy is bad. But a bad economy also means they get fewer resources to work with."

Cwiek was reporting on the Detroit public library system which at the time was facing a $17 million budget shortfall.

This past spring, the city proposed closing 18 libraries, but then backed away from that proposal.

Staffing cuts were made, and now, according to the Detroit News, the city is proposing to close six of its 23 libraries because the "layoffs of about 40 staffers in spring hurt service and forced some branches to temporarily close on some days."

The News visited one library slated for closure and talked to people there:

Erin Carter...searches for jobs using computers at the Chase branch in northwest Detroit that is recommended for closure.

"There is so much stuff closing down," said Carter, 22. "I don't know where to go."

The small library at Seven Mile and Southfield Freeway was packed Tuesday afternoon and every computer was in use. Fifteen-year-old Brandon Thomas and his neighbor, 12-year-old Kalan Lewis, rode their bikes to the library for the first time Wednesday to pick up some books and look for the Civil War movie, "Glory."

"They shouldn't close it," Kalan said. "It's for kids. We need to be able to learn what we don't learn in school."

The libraries on the list for potential closure:

Changing Gears
11:32 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Foreclosures decline, while foreclosure businesses thrive

Frank Oliver clears out a foreclosed home in Roseville, Michigan.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Foreclosure activity dropped by more than a third this past year, according to the group RealtyTrac. But despite the national slowdown, regional companies that take care of foreclosed homes are still thriving. Their job is to keep empty houses clean and safe from the forces that depress local property values: squatters, thieves and decay.

Dawn Hammontree probably never expected to see their work firsthand.

The first part of Hammontree’s story is familiar in Michigan. Her unemployment ran out in December.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:15 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Detroit neighborhoods struggle with squatters

flickr user Detroit1701 flickr.com

City officials have confirmed what residents in many Detroit neighborhoods have said for several years: squatting is on the rise.

Detroit has more than 100,000 vacant properties. And with the foreclosure crisis, even the city’s most stable neighborhoods are dealing with squatters.

Michael Brady is with Community Legal Resources, a group that has helped neighborhood groups deal with vacant property issues in Detroit.

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Economy
10:42 am
Tue August 23, 2011

The Future of Michigan Railroads

A few weeks ago, I talked about efforts Michigan is making to improve passenger rail service between Detroit and Chicago, efforts which include buying and upgrading a portion of the track.

That prompted some enthusiastic response from people who said they were eager for more passenger rail service.

Not just to Chicago, that is, but everywhere. Some were older listeners, who had fond memories of Pullman cars and traveling the nation by rail back in the day. Others were romantics or environmentalists or people not in love with automobiles.

There do seem to be a lot of us who are tired of fighting roads and traffic jams and paying four dollars a gallon for gas. This got me to wondering whether railroads are in fact mostly a part of our romantic past, or an important segment of our transportation future.

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