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Grand Rapids office furniture maker Steelcase says it will close three manufacturing plants in North America. 400 workers will be laid off at a plant in the Grand Rapids suburb of Kentwood.

Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder visited the North American International Auto Show in Detroit yesterday.  He sat in a Chevy Volt, stopped by the Ford and Prius pavilions, and visited with Fiat-Chryser CEO Sergio Marccione. Rick Pluta was at the show and filed this report:

Governor Snyder cheered the rebound in the auto industry from where it was at this time last year. Snyder says he does not want to play favorites when it comes to economic development -- that Michigan should make all entrepreneurs feel equally welcome. But the governor also says he recognizes how big the car business still looms in the state’s economy. Snyder said:

The role of manufacturing and the auto industry in Michigan’s future is critical. I don’t walk away from it all. Actually, I embrace it. That is part of our heritage. That is something we have world-class people in.

The governor says he will call for lower taxes and less regulation and will reveal more details of his economic plan next week when he delivers his first State of the State address

The show opened for media previews on Monday and opens to the public on Saturday.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The head of President Obama’s Auto Task Force paid a visit to the North American International Auto show.   Ron Bloom is also the President’s top advisor on manufacturing policy. Bloom and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow toured Detroit automakers’ exhibits at the auto show.   Bloom says the Obama administration is “cautiously optimistic” about the U.S. auto industry’s recovery.   He says automakers’ profits are “better than expected," but admits that job growth is slower than he’d like. Still, he’s optimistic.  

General Motors is stepping up its advertising budget for major sporting events.   GM says it has reached a deal with NBC to be the exclusive domestic automotive advertiser during the 2012 London Olympics. 

General Motors invested heavily in Olympic advertising in the past, but that spending dipped as the automaker has struggled in recent years. That reduced spending also included the Super Bowl. 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The 2011 North American International Auto Show is in a decidedly upbeat mood.

After two years of somber shows, automakers are rolling out new products and showcasing an unusual level of variety and innovation. And they're bullish about how consumers will respond to all those new choices.

Chrysler might be the poster child for the resurgent feeling at this year’s show.

Last year, the automaker barely had a presence, and Chrysler Brand President Olivier Francois remembered how that felt.

Photo courtesy of www.stabenow.senate.gov

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow visited the North American International Auto Show yesterday in Detroit. The Associated Press reports the Democrat said, "she's excited that the Chevrolet Volt was named Car of the Year," at the show.  The Car of the Year award was announced yesterday morning.  The Ford Explorer won the Truck of the Year award.

Former House Speaker and California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to attend the show yesterday but canceled the trip after Saturday's shooting in Arizona.

Governor Rick Snyder plans to visit the show with his Lt. Gov., Brian Calley, later today.

Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder will visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit today. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will also attend.

The two will tour the auto show and meet with President and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Authority Michael Finney.

Media previews of the show began yesterday.  The show opens to the public on Saturday and runs through January 23rd.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Today president of GM North America, Mark Reuss spoke with Michigan Radio's All Things Considered Host, Jennifer White.

The Chevy Volt won the "Car of the Year Award" at the Detroit Auto Show. White asked Reuss why the auto company has put so much into the development of the Volt.

"If you look at the electric and hybrid car piece of the industry, it's been steadily gaining in popularity as time goes on. But what does it take to go beyond hybrid? To go beyond the traditional electric car and produce something that really has an exteded range with the gasoline and the battery on board, so you don't have to worry about an electric engine on board?"

Reuss said they accomplished that with the development of the Volt, and that GM remained focused on the Volt through some rough times.

When asked about the prospects for the new car market, Reuss was upbeat because he says there are a lot of people driving older cars, so there's "pent up demand" for new cars:

"And the reason why I say this is because if you look at the cost to operate some of the newer vehicles from a fuel efficiency standpoint, they're much, much lower than some of the vehicles these people are forced to hang onto."

Reuss said, in the past, the company has been good at engineering and building trucks and some of the "truck variants," but today they're re-focusing their efforts on smaller cars: 

"We have refocused with the launch of things like the Volt, and the Sonic for Chevrolet, and then the  Verano for Buick. We've really refocused our efforts into excellence in the small and compact car markets. And you're going to see those as really good alternatives in the market as we go forward."

Reuss was asked how he views the automotive industry today. Here's his response:

General Motors

For people who follow the car business, the big news coming from the North American International Auto Show on Monday was no surprise.    

Still, GM employees enthusiastically cheered and applauded the announcement.

The Volt is GM’s extended range electric car.  GM has big plans riding on the electric car’s small frame.  In fact, the Volt is more than a car for GM. It’s an entire strategy.

A new report says repealing the federal health care law will cost Michigan consumers and small businesses a lot of money.

PIRGIM, the consumer advocacy group that issued the report, says individuals could see their premiums go up by 20% by 2016 if the repeal goes through. The repeal would also increase the cost of offering employer-based health insurance over the long term by more than $3,000 a year.

Meghan Hess is with PIRGIM. She says rolling back the law "would also terminate the establishment or expansion of over 184 community health centers across the state, and these community health centers help fill gaps in access to care, giving more people the ability to seek preventive care instead of going to the emergency room."

Attorneys General in Michigan and at least twenty other states have filed a lawsuit challenging the health care law.

Ford Motor Company

Not to be outdone by GM and Nissan, Ford Motor Company says it is delivering on a promise to make more small, fuel-efficient cars for consumers.

At the North American International Auto Show today, the company is showcasing 10 new "C-segment" cars. The company says the vehicles are "fuel efficient smaller cars that people really want."

Charles Manley

Update 11:33 a.m.:

Here's a video of Carl Brower, editor-at-large of Edmunds.com talking about the Chevy Volt winning the "Car of the Year Award."

Update: 10:11 a.m.:

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody spoke with Edmunds.com editor-at-large, Carl Brower. Brower headed the jury of auto industry journalists who picked the Volt. Brower said:

"I think the Volt represents not only a break from traditional drive train technology, but a break from the manufacturing image. It's a hybrid plus. It's beyond a hybrid. And I don't know how many people would have believed that a big domestic auto maker like GM could pull this off a few years ago."

8:23 a.m.:

It's just been announced that the Chevrolet Volt has won the 2011 North American Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show.  The Ford Explorer won truck of the year. The awards were announced this morning.

The Associated Press reports:

Finalists for the car award were the Volt, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Leaf. Truck finalists were the Dodge Durango, the Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Forty-nine auto journalists from the U.S. and Canada made the picks. The vehicles are judged on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value.

The NAIAS opened this morning for media previews.  The show is open to the public on Saturday and runs through January 23rd.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody just attended a press conference with Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Marchionne told reporters that his goal is to pay back the government loans by the end of this year.

Chrysler owes around $7.5 billion to the U.S. government.

He said he was heartened by the response to GM's IPO last year and the investor interest in the auto industry makes a Chrysler IPO more likely.

user dgtmedia-simone / wikimedia commons

Chrysler made the case for its self-proclaimed "resurrection" at the North American International Auto Show.

The company put on an optimistic show as it debuted 16 new Chrysler products. The automaker had only a bare-bones presence at the auto-show last year.

Sergio Marchionne is Chrysler's CEO. He said the display shows the company is once again a viable competitor in the North American car market:

The Wall Street Journal and the Detroit Free Press are reporting that Ford plans to announce the creation of 7,000 more jobs at today's auto show. From the Wall Street Journal:

Ford Motor Co. on Monday is expected to announce it will hire 7,000 workers in the U.S. over the next two years, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields is expected to confirm the news at the auto maker's presentation before the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, this person said.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody was up early this morning taking some pictures at the auto show. You can scroll through them above, or check out this little video below:

The 'press preview' of the auto show is taking place today and tomorrow.  The show opens to the public on Saturday, January 15th.

Corvair Owner / Flickr

The North American International Auto Show begins this week in Detroit. It opens to the public on Saturday and runs through January 23rd. The media, however, get a preview of the show beginning today. It's the biggest annual media event in the state as thousands of journalists from around the world travel here to cover the show.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton gave us a preview:

The auto industry had two bad years in 2009 and 2010, and so did one of its biggest shows: the North American International Auto Show. Some car companies like Porsche didn't even have displays.  But, Porsche is back, and so are some of the traditional glitz and optimism.  Baron Meade, Chairman of the show, said, "I would set the stage of this show as the start of the next real Golden Age of the Automobile."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton, Sarah Hulett, Sarah Cweik and Steve Carmody will all be reporting from the show throughout the next couple of weeks.

 Toyota Motor Corporation has launched a new $50-million dollar safety research center in Ann Arbor, as the company seeks to recover from last year’s massive recalls of millions of cars. 

The money will pay for research on ways to reduce driver distraction, and better protect the most vulnerable passengers including children.  Chuck Gulash is senior executive engineer at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor. 

Graph courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Michigan and several other states have had to borrow money from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits. And now, the federal government wants states to repay.

Unemployment benefits are funded by Michigan businesses through a payroll tax.  When the recession caused the state’s unemployment rate to skyrocket (as high as 15% at one point), the state had to borrow more than $3.8 billion to pay jobless benefits.

user mariodo / wikimedia commons

The winner of the coveted North American Car and Truck of the Year Award will be announced Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show.

The awards are unique in the United States because -- instead of being given by a single media outlet -- they are awarded by a coalition of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and web sites. 

The finalists for North American Car of the Year are:

flickr - photodu.de

The Grand Rapids Press reports that AT&T plans to cut 110 union jobs in West Michigan. The paper reports:

The West Michigan job losses are part of a total of 371 jobs being eliminated by the telecommunications giant in Michigan, said Ryan Letts, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 4034.

Letts is quoted as saying they saw the job cuts coming because the telecommunications industry is changing:

CES

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.

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