Auto

Chrysler is recalling a quarter million crossovers and minivans for ignition switch problems that can cause stalling. 

The recall involves 2010 model year Dodge Journey crossovers and Grand Caravan minivans and Chrysler Town and Country minivans. 

The company says in some of the vehicles, ignition switches can slip out of the “run” position while the vehicle is being driven. That could shut off the engine. 

At least two rear-end collisions have been reported due to the defect.   

The Grand Caravan and Town and Country minivans are top-sellers for the company. 

The automaker is struggling to increase sales while many of its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand vehicles remain at the bottom of many quality and reliability surveys.

Carlota Soc / creative commons

A mail processing center in Flint may be slated for closure next month. The United States Postal Service may move the city’s mail sorting and processing to Pontiac.

Shannon LaBruyere is with the U.S. Postal Service. She says if the closure goes through, 113 jobs will be affected; half would be relocated to Pontiac, half would be offered other positions likely outside of Michigan.

"They will be the people who bear the brunt of the change. Our customers, from our preliminary assessments, won’t see any change in the service they receive."

USPS will hold a public meeting to discuss the possible Flint closure on March 23 at the city's Holiday Inn Gateway Centre.

The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last fiscal year and plans to close 2,000 post offices nationwide this year. LaBruyere says USPS would save "$6.5 million dollars per year" by moving Flint operations to the Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac. 

A Washington Post article in February says President Obama's 2012 budget recommends about $11 billion in relief to help stem losses at the Postal Service:

The losses stem in part from hefty personnel costs not borne by other federal agencies. One is a requirement, imposed by a 2006 law, that it set aside money each year to cover the costs of future health benefits for its retired workers.

In the Obama administration's first substantive attempt to address the Postal Service's fiscal woes, the budget would allow the agency to pay $4 billion less toward future retiree health benefits than otherwise required. The mail agency would have to pay about $1.5 billion of those costs in fiscal 2012 and make up the difference in later years.

The budget proposal also adjusts the size of the annual payments by taking into account the size of the workforce, which has shrunk to about 583,000 full-time employees since the law passed in 2006.

(Ford Motor Company)

Rising gasoline prices are apparently spurring interest among car buyers in smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. Gas prices in Michigan are hovering around $3.50 a gallon. In California, the average price for a gallon of gas is nearly $4. 

George Peterson is the president of Auto-Pacific, an automotive marketing research firm. He says gas prices are helping boost interest in small cars. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest, especially with the new small cars on the road that are very, very good.  The Hyundai Elantra, the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Volt, the Chevrolet Cruze, the upcoming Honda Civic.  All of those are very fuel efficient.  Very good small cars.”  

Still, Peterson says  SUVs remain the leading segment in the auto sales market.

“The largest segment of vehicles still selling is Sport Utility Vehicle.  Now most of those are cross-over SUVs.  So they’re much more fuel efficient than the old gas hog SUVs that we had before.   If you think about sales, SUVs are king, followed by small cars, followed by mid-sized cars.”   

Peterson says the last time gas prices spiked over $4 a gallon, many drivers traded in gas guzzling SUV’s for smaller, more fuel efficient cars. But, he says many of those drivers expressed buyers’ remorse, after missing their larger, more powerful rides.

Andrew Taylor / Flickr

Gas prices continue to go up in that wake of tensions in the Middle East.

The price of a barrel of crude oil has gone over $100 - that number was a record breaker back in early 2008 - the start of the Great Recession.

From the Associated Press:

Gas prices AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are up 8.4 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.53. The auto club said Monday the statewide average is 80.5 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve regular fuel is in the Saginaw/Bay City area, where it's $3.48 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Marquette area at $3.59. Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

The White House chief of staff Bill Daley said on NBC's Meet the Press that opening up the country's strategic oil reserves is an option the Obama Administration is considering:

"It is something that only is done--has been done in very rare occasions.  There's a bunch of factors that have to be looked at, and it is just not the price. Again, the uncertainty--I think there's no one who doubts that the uncertainty in the Middle East right now has caused this tremendous increase in the last number of weeks."

Many people wonder why we're seeing an increase in gas prices when the U.S. imports most of it's oil from Canada and Mexico.

Libya doesn't even make the the U.S. Department of Energy's Top 15 list of countries we import oil from.

The answer, simply, is that oil is a global commodity, so when the global price of crude goes up, we all pay more. Crude oil prices influence the price of gas more than other factors like refining, distribution, and taxes.

How Stuff Works has a write up of how the complex system of gas prices are factored here in the U.S.

They break the cost of a dollar of gas down this way:

  • Taxes: 15 cents
  • Distribution and Marketing: 11 cents
  • Refining: 7 cents
  • Crude oil: 67 cents

You can check gas prices near you on michigangasprices.com.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Let’s say you get busted for speeding, disobeying a stop sign, or failing to yield. You still have to deal with the ticket by contesting it or paying up. But if you’re eligible you’re going to get a letter in the mail from the state. It’ll tell you about a class you can take online or in a classroom.

The new driver improvement course is a refresher on traffic safety.

Drivers who pass the class within sixty days can avoid getting points put on their records and that helps keep insurance rates low.

The program started in January and more than 1,000 drivers have taken the course so far.

(Flickr-Chazz Layne)

Mexican truck drivers may soon start turning up on Michigan roads. U.S. truck drivers are not happy about it.

The Obama administration announced a deal Thursday that will allow Mexican truck drivers to ply their trade on US roads. The deal ended a nearly 20 year ban. Under the deal, Mexican drivers and their trucks will have to meet US safety and other standards.

Union and independent truck drivers don’t like the deal. Leo Wilkins is an independent trucker from the Saginaw area. He says allowing Mexican truckers on US roads will cost American jobs.

 “It would be a benefit to them, but it’s not helping our labor force any.  It’s just destroying more of our labor force that’s already been destroyed."

The US Chamber of Commerce applauds lifting the ban on Mexican truckers. Mexico imposed high tariffs on more than 2 billion dollars worth of US products annually, in retaliation for the ban, which Mexican officials claim violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

wikimedia commons

Mazda is recalling around 50,000 cars after they discovered a certain kind of spider can cause problems in the cars' fuel systems.

CNNMoney.com says the yellow sac spider is the culprit.

The insect can crawl into the fuel system's vent line, weave a web, and cause a restriction that may eventually lead to a leaking fuel tank. A leaking fuel tank is not ideal.

From the recall page at the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Remedy: dealers will inspect and clean up the canister vent line, and install a spring to prevent this type of spider from entering the vent line. This service will be performed free of charge. The safety recall is expected to begin on or before March 25, 2011.

Owners may contact Mazda customer assistance center at 1-800-222-5500.

The recall is for Mazda6 vehicles manufactured from April 8, 2008, through February 8, 2010.

CNNMoney.com says no fires have been reported yet:

There have been 20 reported cases of spider infestation in the Mazda6 -- all have been in cars with 4-cylinder engines, none with V6's. No actual fires are known to have been caused by the spiders, according to Mazda's letter.

No word on what the spider might be looking for in the Mazda's vent line.

Investigators are picking through what’s left after a fire heavily damaged an auto parts plant in Howell on Wednesday.  Dozens of firefighters from six different Livingston County communities joined forces to battle the blaze at the Magna Atreum auto parts plant.  

About 450 people work at the plant which produces dashboards, consoles and other parts for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan and Mazda.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

The full extent of the damage and how long it will take get to the facility back up and running is also still being reviewed.  No one was injured in Wednesday’s fire.

Cobo Center Press Release

Cobo Center in Detroit is going to get more than a coat of new paint between now and next year’s auto show.

The regional authority now running Detroit’s downtown convention center announced today Cobo will undergo a $221 million renovation.

Cobo Center’s general manager, Thom Connors, says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the North American International Auto Show:

"More leasable space, more attractive space, and increased banquet and meeting room capacity and new exhibition space. Its going to make it an easier sell to a wider variety of potential clients.  And allow us to do larger, multiple events at the same time, as well as larger capacity events in the future."

As part of  the renovation, Cobo Arena will be replaced with a 40,000 square foot ballroom space.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the plans, announced this morning, to renovate downtown Detroit's Cobo Center:

The project will be ready by the 2014 North American International Auto Show, and it will “open up” Cobo to the Detroit River with a new atrium entrance and sweeping architectural changes, said Larry Alexander, chair of the five-member Cobo Regional Convention Facility Authority.

The work will mark the first major overhaul of Cobo since 1989. Cobo was built in 1960. In recent years, Cobo has suffered from roof leaks and other problems, and other cities have leapfrogged ahead of Detroit in the amount of showroom space offered and other amenities.

A bond sale enabled by the Cobo authority will pay for the renovations.

Spacing Magazine / Flickr

Snowstorms in February didn’t seem to dampen car sales.  Sales were up 32-percent at Nissan, 42-percent at Toyota, and 46-percent at GM.

GM’s gain is for several reasons. Last February GM’s sales were weak, so this February looks much better in comparison. The company increased incentives in February. And it’s easier for GM customers to get financing now that GM has its own finance arm, GM Financial.

Don Johnson is head of GM’s U.S. sales.

"With their entry into the market, our penetration of the sub-prime business is above the industry average," says Johnson.  "We’ve also got GM Financial growing their prime lease business."

February sales were up 13-percent at Chrysler and 14-percent at Ford.

user mariodo / creative commons

In its April auto issue, the magazine Consumer Reports calls the Chevy Volt is a "tough sell."

It's not the kind of review GM has been accustomed to after the car was released with much fanfare.

The Volt was named "Car of the Year" at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Detroit News says that harsh review from Consumer Reports questions whether the car makes "economic sense."

David Champion, the senior director of Consumer Report auto testing center said:

"When you are looking at purely dollars and cents, it doesn't really make a lot of sense. The Volt isn't particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and it's not particularly good as a gas vehicle either in terms of fuel economy. This is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer."

The car costs around $40,000, but with a government tax credit (a credit some lawmakers want to turn into a rebate) the cost comes down to around $33,500.

The criticism came from the car's range in cold weather. The Volt's electric motor range is 40 miles under normal driving conditions, but that range dropped significantly when Consumer Reports tested the car in Connecticut this winter - the range dropped to 25 to 27 miles on electric power alone.

A GM spokesman said his range was better in cold weather. Again, from the Detroit News article:

GM spokesman Greg Martin noted that it's been an extremely harsh winter — and as a Volt driver he said he's getting 29-33 miles on electric range. But he noted that in more moderate recent weather, the range jumped to 40 miles on electric range or higher.

Other criticisms of the Volt were its 5-hour charging time, and a heating system that leaves your hands and feet cold.

The magazine gave the Volt praise for its acceleration and for its "taut yet supple ride."

USA Today reports that in the April auto issue, Consumer Reports gives foreign automakers Honda and Subaru top honors with Ford positing the "largest gain" in rankings overall.

Boeing

The Air Force announced last week it picked Boeing over rival Airbus to build 179 new planes that refuel other planes while flying. GE Aviation Systems in Grand Rapids will design and build computerized mission control systems for the planes – known as tankers.

GE Aviation Systems General Manager George Kiefer says the contract is a great opportunity for engineers at his company.

“Typically, you’ll end up with – during your career – two or three or four new aircraft programs like this, if you’re lucky.”

Kiefer says the Grand Rapids location will be able to maintain 100 engineering positions thanks to the contract. Over time he says the company will create another 50 jobs. Those new jobs will be spread amongst the group’s facilities in Grand Rapids, Florida and the United Kingdom.

Gentex Corporation

When you think high-tech you probably don’t think about car mirrors. But now you can use your car rearview mirror to open your garage door, see how cold it is outside and call your mom. One of the nation’s leading car mirror manufacturers is Zeeland-Michigan-based Gentex Corporation. New federal safety regulations set to be finalized soon would significantly boost the company’s business.

Gentex designs and builds rearview mirrors with embedded video display; sort of like a TV with picture in picture. The built in screen displays the picture from a tiny camera mounted on the back of a vehicle.  

It's not unusual for a big snowstorm to hurt business at new car dealerships.

But it appears that February car sales in the U.S. improved over the same month a year ago, even though much of the country experienced more than one big snowstorm.                           

Car sales could be up 19% as a fair number of people trudged through snow-covered lots to buy a car.  That could be a sign that the pent-up demand that built up over the recession is now being released at a steady pace. 

infotruck.blogspot.com

A Michigan-based company is being credited for detecting a shipment of chemicals thought to be part of a terrorist plan to blow up U.S. targets.

Con-way Freight of Ann Arbor has a Homeland Security program in which employees are trained to spot suspicious shipments.

That program paid off this week when a worker found a package of a chemical called phenol being shipped to Lubbock, Texas.

Con-way managers notified the FBI and a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia was arrested.

merchantmarinejobs.org

The Great Lakes have a bigger impact on Michigan’s economy than many people  may realize.

The Michigan Sea Grant says more than a million and a half jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes.

Those jobs generate more than $62 billion in wages every year.

"This is the second time we've done this analysis," says Jennifer Read of Michigan Sea Grant. "And it's always surprising -- to me, at least --  the extent of the jobs that are directly related to the Great Lakes, across multiple sectors.  It's just a huge impact.

Two years ago, when President Obama decided to spend billions to prop up General Motors, and then to guide it  through a cushioned, “soft landing” bankruptcy, there were a lot of doubters. Many thought nature should have been allowed to take its course, and that the once-mighty General should have been allowed to die.

At the time, a commentator on NBC News said “As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.”

Rising gasoline prices threaten to take some of the optimism out of a rosy new forecast for retail sales in Michigan.  A recent survey of Michigan retailers finds 76% expect to see their sales improve this spring. 

  Good holiday sales are lifting many business owners expectations for the year ahead. 

Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retail Association. Scott says the survey was taken before gasoline prices spiked this week.   He says high gas prices could be a problem for retailers.

 “But the bigger concern, more than just their own delivery trucks, is generally the effect on consumers.  And of course, every dollar a consumer puts in his or her gas tank is a dollar that can’t be spent at the store.”

Scott says a few years ago when gas prices reached four dollars a gallon, retail sales dried up.  But he says pent up consumer demand may keep the customers coming, even with high gas prices.

newsmagazineblog.com

In 2008, Michigan enacted a new energy law. It requires power companies to produce 10 percent of their power from Michigan-based renewable sources by the year 2015.

Now Consumers Energy is asking state regulators for permission to reduce customers’ bills by about $55 million.

Consumers spokesman Dan Bishop says the company is on track to reach that goal, with about five percent of its power now coming from renewable sources.

And that’s why Consumers says it wants to put a little bit of money back into its customers’ pockets.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A bill that would fund the Pure Michigan ad campaign for the entire year will soon be on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The Legislature has approved the additional dollars to keep the campaign on airwaves through the busy tourism months. 

Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen says the funding had to be approved this week before ad-buy costs go up. 

"It was more important that we got it done right now because every day that we delay this means that we’re going to have that less of a chance to buy the ads that we need. We can buy more now than we can in a week, so it was just so important to get it done.”  

The state will tap a venture capital fund to pay for the ads for the balance of this year. Hansen says lawmakers still need to find a permanent funding source for the Pure Michigan ad campaign. But he does not think they will deal with that issue until next year.

IFCAR / wikimedia commons

If you own a Toyota or a Lexus, your floor mat or the floor carpet could inadvertently help you put the pedal to the metal.

Toyota has announced two recalls and has amended it's 2009 "Potential Floor Mat Interference Recall."

Altogether, more than 2 million vehicles are involved.

The company says the recalls are "voluntary," but the federal government says it requested that Toyota recall these additional vehicles after their investigation into Toyota's unintended acceleration problems.

From USA Today:

This should be the end of it, according to NHTSA administrator David Strickland. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed more than 400,000 pages of Toyota documents to determine whether the scope of its recalls for pedal entrapment was sufficient. As a result of the agency's review, NHTSA asked Toyota to recall these additional vehicles, and now that the company has done so, our investigation is closed."

Here are the cars involved in the recalls and amended recalls:

  • Lexus GS 300 - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus GS 350 All-Wheel Drive - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus  RX 330 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 350 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 400h - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Highlander - model year 2004 through 2006
  • Highlander HV- model year 2004 through 2006
  • 4Runners - model year 2003 through 2009
  • Lexus LX 570 - model year 2008 through 2011
  • RAV4 - model year 2006 through 2010

You can also check to see whether your car is recalled by entering your Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN on Toyota's website.

The company says Toyota and Lexus dealers will implement the new and amended recalls at no charge to the vehicle owners.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is following this story and will have an update later today.

Image from the Center for Michigan's website

Try your hand at fixing the state's budget problems.

The Center for Michigan has released an interactive state budget calculator - YOU Fix the Budget.

The idea is similar to the New York Times interactive budget calculator for the federal government.

You can start by adding $1.2 billion to the state's budget woes by cutting business taxes, or you can leave business taxes alone and deal with the current budget hole the Center estimates at $1.4 billion.

Once you start, your options are to cut, cut, cut (cuts to education, cuts general government, cuts to prison and police, cuts to the public workforce, and cuts to welfare and health care) - or - you could raise taxes.

So far, of the 300 or so people who have participated - raising the Beer Tax is the most popular option.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Consumers Energy has been busy this week reconnecting tens of thousands of customers who lost power during last Sunday's ice & snow storm.  So it could be argued the utility was due some good news.  Today CMS Energy announced the Jackson-based utility profits increased last year.   

Fewer homebuyers were interested in buying a previously foreclosed home in Michigan last year. The result is an increasingly high number of bank-owned homes just sitting on the real estate market.  

Just under 41 thousand formerly foreclosed homes sold last year in Michigan.  That’s down by a third compared to 2009 and 2008.  The prices paid for those homes also dropped.

user paul (dex) / Flickr

General Motors says it earned $510 million in the fourth quarter and $4.7 billion last year as it continued an impressive comeback from bankruptcy.

It was the company's first profitable year since 2004 and GM's best performance since making $6 billion in 1999 during the pickup truck and SUV boom.

GM says fourth-quarter net income was fueled by strong sales in China and the U.S. as the global auto market began to recover. GM says net income per share was 31 cents, including $400 million in charges mainly for preferred stock dividends and for buying preferred stock from the U.S. government.

The quarterly profit was less than the two previous quarters. GM says expenses were higher because it launched two new vehicles. Revenue for the quarter was $36.9 billion.

pawpaw67 / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids city and school district officials have met regularly for more than a decade to come up with ways to share services and facilities to benefit one another. Now, state budget concerns are pressuring them to look even harder for those cost-saving solutions.

echealthinsurance.com

Some Michiganders who buy their own health insurance will pay more for their policies beginning in May.

But the price hikes aren’t as steep as they could have been.

Blue Cross Blue Shield had planned premium increases of as much as 21 percent.

But the Michigan Attorney General intervened.

“Through negotiations we were able to slash that in most cases by about 60 percent, so the increases ended up being about 60 million dollars smaller just in the first year alone,” says John Selleck, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

user santoshkrishnan / creative commons

General Motors is expected to formally announce its first ‘full-year profit’ since 2004 on Thursday. It was just two years ago General Motors had to seek bankruptcy protection.    Now, the automaker is expected to announce a 5 billion dollar profit for 2010.

Aaron Bragman is an automotive analyst with IHS Global Insight.  He gives a big part of the credit to the federal government for helping GM through bankruptcy. 

“I don’t think we’d be in the place where we’re at right now if the government had not intervened and actually funded their bankruptcy.  We’d be in a very different place.”

 Bragman says 2011 might be another good year for GM, because of rising gasoline prices. 

 “Chevy is bringing several small vehicles to market.  The new Spark is on the horizon.  The new (Sonic) is coming this year.   So we’re actually seeing a lot of these small cars coming…and now we’re seeing a market force that may actually drive people to go an buy them.”

Bragman says high gasoline prices may hurt Chrysler, because it doesn’t have as many high- mileage vehicles to offer car buyers.

flickr

There may soon be no firefighters available in Allen Park.

The city council has voted to lay off the entire fire department.

A movie studio-deal gone bad is getting some of the blame for Allen Park’s financial troubles.

The Detroit suburb bought an old Visteon facility in 2008 for almost $25 million, banking on a plan to lease the property to Unity Studios.

The deal flopped  and now Allen Park is broke.

Last night, the city council announced all 25 of the city’s firefighters, plus its interim chief will be getting pink slips.

State of Detroit

Feb 23, 2011

You may think I am a little crazy, but while I was listening to  Mayor Dave Bing’s State of the City address last night, what kept running through my head was an ancient rock and roll song.

An early hit called Chantilly Lace, by a now half-forgotten artist called the Big Bopper, whose main claim to fame is dying in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly more than half a century ago.

Pages