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Automakers are getting ready for the big auto show in Detroit next week, but before they land there, many leaders in the auto industry are attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The show started today and will run through the 9th. Organizers says it's "the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow."

CNBC's Phil LeBeau says the show used to attract little attention from the auto industry, but that's changed since more electronic gadgets are finding their way into new cars and trucks.

LeBeau says the car makers are seeking new ways to increase their profits:

In car entertainment and connectivity, systems like Sync are increasingly must have add-ons for car buyers. And they have no problem paying for them. These systems drive higher transaction prices and greater profit margins.

Ford Motor Company President and CEO, Allan Mulally, will give a keynote address to the conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. CES Conference organizers say "Ford constantly innovates and launches new technologies, like SYNC with speech recognition, that make the driving experience safer through technology."

The Secretary of Defense says he wants to cancel a defense contract that would eliminate hundreds of potential new jobs in Michigan. 

The contract would be for an amphibious vehicle for the U.S. Marine Corps. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was intended to replace a Vietnam era model. A Sterling Heights based division of General Dynamics is the contractor that has been developing the 40 ton vehicle.

Peter Keating is a company spokesman. He says canceling the program now will cost as much as moving forward with production. 

"We would expect our congressional delegation in Washington DC to take a look at that and in their wisdom decide if it’s something they’d like to support." 

The marine vehicle has been plagued with cost overruns and other problems since the Reagan administration.   Escalating costs prompted the U.S. Marine Corps to cut in half the number of Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles it planned to purchase. Keating insists past problems have been resolved. 

flickr - brewbooks

Sales at Borders Book stores have been slipping for several years as more buyers go to places like Amazon.com to find their titles, and as more people move into the digital reader market. Last month, the company reported that its third quarter sales were down 17.6% from the same period a year ago.

So the company is struggling to find a way to pay its bills. One way it's trying to preserve cash is to suspend its payments to publishers.

Another survey, another big improvement for Ford Motor Company.

Consumer Reports says its subscribers ranked Ford second only to Toyota as the best brand this year.  It’s a notable reversal of fortunes for both companies.

According to Consumers Reports, subscribing car owners perceive the Ford brand as nearly equal to the Toyota brand, and on the key factors of safety, quality and value, they rank Ford better than Toyota.  

Ford also was rated best non-luxury brand in a recent J.D. Power survey on initial quality. 

"This was long-term planning that is now paying off," says Jesse Toprak, an analyst with TrueCar.com.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A Borders bookstore in Farmington Hills is set to close Friday, Jan. 7.

Borders Books is starting the New Year by closing the Farmington Hills store and at least 16 other stores nationwide. A Borders spokesperson says more closures could be announced in March.

The Farmington Hills store is plastered with bright yellow "Going Out of Business" banners. Books are up to 80% off, and everything has to go in the next two days.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Public Citizen / Flickr

Representative Nancy Pelosi, outgoing Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, will visit the North American International Auto Show next week in Detroit.

The Democratic Representative from California says she will visit the show on Monday, which is the first day of previews for the media.  The show opens to the public on January 15th and runs through January 23rd at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

As the Associated Press reports:

Pelosi says a string manufacturing base is vital to the nation's security and competitiveness. She says Detroit's automakers are central to efforts to grow a "clean, green economy."

The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan Democratic Representative John Dingell invited Pelosi to the show.

Texting while driving
C. Todd Lopez / Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

The city of Troy, Michigan has taken the state’s “no texting while driving” law a bit further, making it illegal to talk on the phone while driving, among other things.

The city's distracted driving ordinance went into effect last July, but the city didn’t officially start to enforce it until the first week of January, 2011. According to the city's website, the following actions can cause "distracted driving":

"Such action can include but is not limited to: eating, reading, writing, performing personal hygiene/grooming, physical interaction with pets, passengers, or unsecured cargo, any of which is

done in a manner tat prohibits the driver from maintaining direct physical control of the motor vehicle steering mechanism with at least one hand that is free of all other objects and used entirely to form a controlled grip on the steering mechanism."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

President Obama is expected today to sign legislation to improve the nation’s food safety.  The new law will put more regulations on Michigan farmers. 


2010 ended with national recalls of parsley, alfalfa sprouts and cilantro because of possible salmonella contamination.  The recalls were just the latest problems that prompted Congress to revamp the nation’s food safety system. The changes include better tracking of all kinds of food, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s plate.  

General Motors' Headquarters, Detroit, MI
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Dan Akerson, Chairman and CEO of General Motors, is planning to meet Friday with members of Michigan's congressional delegation.  That's according to an official familiar with the meeting.  The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that, "it will give Akerson a chance to meet some Michigan lawmakers for the first time".

Akerson was named GM's CEO in September, 2010. GM has not yet commented on the meeting.

As the AP notes:

Michigan's 15 House members and two senators were key allies for GM as it underwent a government-led bankruptcy in 2009. The Detroit company had its initial public offering last November, reducing the government's ownership share to 33.3 percent.

December auto sales numbers are due tomorrow. It’s expected to be another good month for Detroit’s automakers. 

After watching auto sales dwindle in the depths of the recession, auto companies have seen a surge in buying demand in recent months.  December is expected to be the third straight month of strong domestic auto sales.

Grocery cart
user mytvdinner / Flickr

Michigan residents who rely on food stamps will see some changes beginning in January.

Michigan's 1.9 million food stamp recipients get their benefits in lump sum at the beginning of the month. Most food stamp purchases are made at that time, which can lead to long lines at the checkout counter and a shortage of fresh produce at some stores.

"We know that we’re going to be busier those days, so we typically have more staff in the store," says Joe Gappy, manager at Gigante Prince Valley Supermercado in southwest Detroit.

Beginning January 4th, Michigan will spread its food stamp distributions throughout the month. That means some recipients will receive their lump sum benefits on the 5th of the month, for example, others on the 19th.  Click here to see a chart detailing date changes for food assistance benefits.

Grand Rapids skyline
John Eisenschenk / Creative Commons

One of the biggest office buildings in Grand Rapids is listed for sale at a public foreclosure auction next month. The 17-story sleek blue-glass Bridgewater Place dramatically changed the city’s skyline when it was built in the early 90s. Many people refer to the building as the Varnum building, because of the law firms’ prominent logo near the top floor. Varnun rents the tops 6 floors.

Attic insulation
Ryan McFarland / Flickr

Michigan businesses that make and install residential furnaces, windows and other energy-related products are getting a burst of last-minute jobs before the year ends.


Tony Ianni is a sales manager for WeatherGard, which installs windows, roofs and insulation – all of which qualify for a federal tax credit for energy efficiency:



"It’s definitely been a big push, everybody’s calling and the first question out of their mouths is, 'Can we still get the tax credit?'” 


Ianni says informing customers about the credit has been a big push for his industry. "Of course all your last-minute people are coming through now, trying to get everything done," he said. 


The tax credit also applies to hot water heaters, furnaces and stoves that burn wood or pellets. It’s good for 30 percent of the cost of the project, up to 15-hundred dollars.

Michigan home prices keep falling
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s home prices are expected to tumble again next year.


 But, some parts of the state might see a slight increase in price.


 Home sale prices in Michigan rocked up and down this year. Government incentives helped boost prices in the first half of the year. When those incentives expired, prices dropped.


Alex Villacorta is with Clear Capitol. He says home prices in Michigan should get a boost in the Spring, but then should fall at the end of the year. 

The Salvation Army
Evan P. Cordes / Creative Commons

The signature red kettles may be packed away, but the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign is still underway.

Money from the kettles supports the Salvation Army’s programs; helping victims of disasters, low-income seniors, and running summer camps for kids.

Charge Point charging station for electric vehicles
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

West Michigan will get 50 free public charging stations through a program funded by the federal stimulus program. The first one in downtown Grand Rapids is now up and running. It’s one of only a handful on the west side of the state. The other two are in Holland and a fourth is set to come online soon in Muskegon.

Online sales are reportedly up about 12 percent this holiday shopping season. That could be bad news for Michigan tax collectors.  Michigan residents are supposed to pay sales tax on items bought online, but few do. 


 Caleb Booth is a spokesman for the state Treasury Department.  He says the state lost out on $328 million dollars in uncollected sales taxes on online purchases in 2009. 

The Fiat Multipla
user corvettec6r / Wikimedia Commons

The auto analysts have weighed in and the car that tops the list (all together now)... The Pontiac Aztek!

Former Car & Driver editor Csaba Csere says of the Aztec:

If you have ever heard that saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Aztek is the application of that concept to a car.

The Pontiac Aztek
IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons

We asked our Facebook friends to give us their picks for ugliest car of the past decade.

As Tanya M. says, "clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

That's true Tanya... except when it comes to the Pontiac Aztek (sorry Elizabeth C.!).

If our Facebook friends were stranded on a desert island with twelve strangers, and they were the last ones standing, clearly they would not appreciate being given an Aztek as a tribute to their survival skills.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It’s not Christmas yet, but Michigan retailers are in the holiday spirit. There are signs this will be the best holiday shopping season in Michigan in many years. 

When the holiday shopping season was getting started a month ago, a survey showed a majority of Michigan retailers were optimistic that they would see increased sales compared to last Christmas. The latest data is backing up that optimism.

Sign of Flint Police Headquarters
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Flint Police Department is closed on the weekends following the latest round of officer layoffs.

The Flint Journal reports new office hours took effect Saturday, the day after 20 police officers were laid off.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling laid off a total of 66 police officers this year to cope with a multi-million-dollar deficit. The city also made other cuts.

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

The Livingston County United Way is doing a 1-day only fundraiser to try to alleviate the growing need in the area.

It's called Triple Money Monday: On Dec. 20, from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m., all donations made to nonprofit will be tripled, thanks to the Ted and Jane Von Voigtlander Foundation and two anonymous donors.

Boxed up child motorized ATV in trunk of car
Jenn Forman Orth / Flickr

Michigan retailers were optimistic that this would be a better holiday shopping season than they’ve had the last few years.

And so far, those expectations appear to be warranted.

The National Retail Federation upped its prediction for holiday sales from a 2.3% increase to a 3.3% increase over last year.

The Changing Gears team has put together a one-hour special Reinventing Our Cities.

It airs today at 2 pm eastern and 1 pm central. You can hear it on Chicago Public Radio, Michigan Radio and Cleveland's Ideastream, or, you can click this audio link to take a listen:

Here's how the team describes the one-hour special:

Foreclosed house
Damon Duncan / Flickr

Foreclosure filings in Michigan fell 20% between October and November, but most of the decline came in homes in the final stages of foreclosure according to data released by Realty Trac, a group that calls itself "the nation's leading online foreclosure marketplace."

The pace of homes entering the system remained relatively unchanged.

Blue Water Bridge
K.l.macke/Flickr

The Blue Water Bridge has been reopened. The bridge, which links Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario, was shut down Monday and Tuesday to commercial traffic as crews worked to clear snow from the week's severe winter storm.

As The Associated Press reports, the bridge's closing:

...forced several General Motors Co. plants in Michigan to interrupt production and caused long delays at the Ambassador Bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Governor Granholm signed legislation today that will allow for lucrative tax breaks for businesses that want to locate near Detroit Metro Airport.

The project is called the “aerotropolis,” and supporters say it could ultimately create tens of thousands of jobs.

Granholm said:

"I  think people can really look forward from here to see what the build-out will be around this area.

"The communities that are going to take advantage of the warehousing and the movement of goods and the logistics and the technology that’s associated with it as well," she said.

The Pure Michigan advertising campaign is getting the money it needs.   Governor Granholm today signed the legislation authorizing funds to pay for ads promoting Michigan tourism.

The Associated Press reports: 

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has as expected signed a bill that will help pay for the Pure Michigan tourism advertising campaign. The bill that Granholm announced signing Wednesday transfers $10 million to the campaign from the state's 21st Century Jobs Fund.  The addition gives Pure Michigan more than $15 million for the current fiscal and will provide enough cash to pay for a winter and spring tourism campaign. The program would have been canceled if the extra money had not been approved. Pure Michigan advocates still are pushing to raise the annual budget for the program to about $30 million.

Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation has approved tax breaks for 17 projects in the state. The incentives are supposed to help companies create nearly 3,000 total jobs.

The expansion of an automotive supplier in the Detroit suburb of Redford will likely have the biggest impact on the job market. Piston Automotive LLC will create 467 jobs – albeit only 135 of those directly. The producer of electric batteries and car chassis was considering expanding in Kentucky.

A close second in terms of creating new jobs is a company that’s expanding in Kentwood, just south of Grand Rapids. Autocam Corporation makes precision parts for transportation and medical devices. They’ll hire 200 new employees and the state estimates the project will create another 265 jobs indirectly.

Eleven of the projects will help investors redevelop blighted buildings.

Inside the Packard Plant
Angelique DuLong

The state of Michigan will soon increase assistance to redevelop old industrial sites. 

The Associated Press reports:

Redevelopment projects in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Hamtramck and Lansing are getting a boost with statetax incentives. 

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday the projects are in line for brownfield redevelopment assistance from the state. Granholm, who leaves office at the end of this year, made the announcement at her last scheduled meeting with the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board.

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