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Carlos Osorio / Associated Press

She began her career at General Motors as an engineering co-op student in 1980.

33 years later, Mary Barra has made history by being named the next CEO of GM — the first time a woman has been placed in the top spot of a major automaker.

GM made the groundbreaking announcement today that CEO Dan Akerson has moved up his retirement to January 15, after discovering his wife is battling advanced-stage cancer.

But who is Mary Barra, and what does this appointment mean to America's auto industry?

Listen to the full interview above. 

GM

Dan Akerson, chairman and CEO of General Motors, will step down on January 15, 2014. Akerson moved up the date of his departure by several months after his wife was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.

Akerson's successor will be Mary Barra. She's the executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

The 51-year-old Barra will become the company's first female CEO, and will be the first female CEO in the global automotive industry.

Barra was the daughter of a Pontiac die maker, according to Bloomberg:

Barra, 51, whose career started on a factory floor as an intern more than 30 years ago, has been in charge of product development and quality of all GM cars and trucks for 22 months, fostering collaboration and wringing costs out of the supply chain.

In its press release, GM said Barra was a leader in the company's turnaround:

...revitalizing GM’s product development process resulting in the launch of critically acclaimed new products while delivering record product quality ratings and higher customer satisfaction.

“With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,” said Barra. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

GM announced other executive staff changes as well. Dan Ammann, 41 and GM CFO, will become company president and will manage the company's regional operations around the world. He'll remain as CFO of GM as well. A new CFO will be named at a later date.

And Mark Reuss, 50, will move into the position being vacated by Barra.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

Four years after facing the possibility of its own demise, General Motors is free of the controversial government ownership that saved the Detroit automaker in 2009.

"It was an unambiguous success," says Steven Rattner, who headed the Obama Administration's Auto Task Force.

The task force shepherded GM through an unprecedented 42-day bankruptcy.

The U.S. Treasury announced Monday it had sold the last of its stock in GM, at a loss of $10.5 billion.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

General Motors is heading back to its roots.

The automaker announced today that it will sponsor Flint’s “Back to the Bricks” car show for the next five years. The show features hundreds of ‘classic’ cars and trucks.

“This is an event that is more than just a car cruise and a car show,” says GM spokesman Tom Wickham, “It brings people into a community…provides an economic boost to a community and we need an economic boost.”

About a half million people attended Back to the Bricks in Flint this year.

Chevrolet

Today, General Motors announced plans to largely withdraw its Chevrolet brand from Europe beginning in 2016.

The automaker says the decision was largely due to a challenging business model and the difficult economic situation in Europe.

Meanwhile, the Ford Mustang is celebrating its 50th birthday with a new design — and plans to go global.

Russell Padmore, business reporter for the BBC, joins us from London to talk about the latest auto news.

Listen to full interview above. 

Felix Henrichs

On Thursday,  Ford Motor Company will pull the veil off the redesigned Mustang. For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the iconic pony car will be sold in every region of the world.

Talk to just about any Mustang owner, and you'll get a story about how their love affair with the car began.

Laura Slider of Ann Arbor says she's wanted one ever since she was fifteen, the day a red Mustang appeared in the driveway across the street.

Car dealership.
GM

Auto companies report November's auto sales next week.

The news should be good, especially for Ford, Chrysler and Detroit.

Michelle Krebs is an analyst with Edmunds.com. She says the Detroit Three have had a great year so far, with car sales leading the way.   

“But they also are the biggest seller of trucks,” says Krebs, “People are buying big trucks again like they haven't in a long time.

Krebs says GM's did better this year than she expected.  She adds that’s especially true since Consumer Reports called the new Impala the "best sedan in the U.S."

user dgtmedia-simone / wikimedia commons

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Italian automaker Fiat says it won't launch an initial public offering for Chrysler before the end of this year.

Fiat said Monday it is "not practicable" for Chrysler in 2013, and said it was working to launch the IPO in the first quarter of 2014. It did not elaborate on the reasons, but said the decision was made after consulting underwriters.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said last month that Fiat was "bent on executing the IPO" and that he hoped it would be done by the end of the year.

Fiat owns a controlling stake in Chrysler, but has been stymied in its efforts to buy out the minority shareholder in a disagreement over price. An IPO is an alternative way to monetize the stake.

Andrew Duthie / Wikimedia

That's according to Business Insider. Alex Davies and Mike Nudelman produced a map for the magazine showing top car choices in each state using data from Kelley Blue Book.

KBB looked at data going back to the beginning of this year.

Michigan was unique in it's "top car" choice. Most everywhere else, the Ford F-Series of trucks were the most popular. Here are some other states that broke the Ford truck trend.

But Americans elsewhere have different tastes: Florida and Maryland went for the Toyota Camry. Hawaii liked the Toyota Tacoma. Oklahoma bucked the geographic trend — the most popular car there is the Nissan Altima sedan.

Lincoln Motor Company

Ford's luxury brand Lincoln took another step this week towards a hoped-for redemption.

The brand unveiled the MKC, a small crossover.

Lincoln's cars are aging and uncompetitive. Jim Farley, who's in charge of Lincoln, cautions the brand's recovery will take a long time, but he hopes the MKC is a turning point.

It's the first small crossover the brand has launched. "We wanted to challenge preconceived notions that Lincoln only makes big sedans and SUVs," says Farley, noting that sales in the small crossover segment have grown 200% since 2009.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

An old auto plant site is getting new life in Flint.

"We are proud to announce,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling told a news conference today, “American Pipe will be made in Flint”

Alabama-based American Cast Iron Pipe Company confirmed today that it plans to build a new multi-million dollar manufacturing plant on part of the old Buick City site.

The factory will produce pipes for a project to bring water from Lake Huron to Genesee County. 

Tracy Samilton

Hitting the open road in an RV may seem as American as apple pie -- but in Germany, the activity known as "caravaning" is  -- well, as German as apple strudel.

Thousands of caravanners make their vacation pilgrimage to the Rhine River every year, a favorite destination. 

Whether it's a vineyard that's set aside semi-permanent places for customers who own RVs and trailers, or an overnight RV campsite that is little more than a parking lot - all boast a million dollar view, at a bargain price.

Photo courtesy of Toyota

As every driver is happy to note, gas prices are down. Today you can find gas prices close to, and even under, $3 a gallon.

And just on cue, American are buying pickups and SUVs at rate that hasn’t been seen since the Great Recession began.

Believe it or not, some of that seems to be due to one man — Anchorman Ron Burgundy.

During the baseball playoffs and the World Series, Dodge released commercials with Will Ferrell reprising his Ron Burgundy character. Sales of the 2014 Dodge Durango jumped 58.5 percent as those commercials hit our TV screens.

But haven't we done this before — Americans fall in love with SUVs and pickups, only to have gas prices leapfrog back up, leaving us pining for small, fuel-efficient cars?

Elio Motors

The state legislature has approved a bill to change Michigan's motorcycle laws.  The change will let Elio (pronounced EE-lee-oh) Motors sell a three-wheeled car in the state, without requiring buyers to take a motorcycle safety test, known as a motorcycle endorsement.

The "Elio" is technically a motorcycle because it has three wheels and weighs less than 1,600 pounds. Nonetheless, it is a car, with car safety features like airbags.

Peter Blanchard / Flickr

Imagine driving through Ann Arbor, glancing over at the car next to you only to realize that the driver does not have his or her hands on the steering wheel, yet the car is moving along in traffic just fine.

That could happen in just a few short years.

The University of Michigan has announced plans to bring a fleet of networked, driverless cars to Ann Arbor by 2021.

Here to talk about what that would look like in the streets of Ann Arbor and what that might mean to drivers everywhere is the director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Peter Sweatman joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Colorful used cars
Zelda Richardson

The carmakers posted October sales increases after a sub-par September.

More from the Associated Press:

The gains signal that automakers made it through the 16-day partial government shutdown relatively unscathed. Chrysler even predicted stronger industry sales for the month than most analysts.

"After a choppy start to the beginning of the month, Chrysler Group sales accelerated in the second half of the month with renewed consumer confidence," Reid Bigland, the company's U.S. sales chief, said in a statement ...

Analysts say the 16-day government shutdown in early October kept buyers out of showrooms early in the month, but that apparently was just a temporary slowdown ...

Auto sales have consistently been a bright spot in the U.S. economy. Sales are closing in on pre-recession rates exceeding 16 million, far above the 2009 trough of 10.4 million.

automotiveauto.info

All three Detroit automakers had a solid third quarter.

Chrysler, the smallest of the three, made $464 million, despite a two-month delay in shipping the new Jeep Cherokee, which was plagued with quality issues.  Most dealers will have the cars by mid-November.  CEO Sergio Marchionne says he has higher expectations for profits in the fourth quarter. 

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company continues to improve its bottom line, after a massive restructuring effort began in 2006.

The company had a record third quarter profit, before taxes and special taxes. After those expenses, Ford made $1.3 billion from July through September.

It's not just about North America and the highly profitable F-150, says Bob Shanks, Ford's Chief Financial Officer.

Toyota

Toyota is recalling approximately 803,000 model year 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, and Venza vehicles due to a problem that could result in air bag failure.

From the company's press release:

In the involved vehicles, water from the air conditioning condenser unit housing could leak onto the airbag control module and cause a short circuit, resulting in illumination of the airbag warning light. In some instances, the air bag(s) could become disabled or could inadvertently deploy.

Ford Motor Company

In recent years, U.S. automakers have introduced a slew of appealing new compact, sub-compact and mini cars.  The trend threatens to make the "econobox" an endangered species.

Econobox is the disparaging term used by many auto analysts and reviewers, including Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com, to describe a cheaply made, no-frills small car.

Krebs says U.S. domestic car companies were caught flat-footed, with no small cars to offer during the oil crisis of the 1970s.  That left them unable to compete with Toyota and Honda's fuel-efficient and reliable small cars.

General Motors

The fully self-driving or autonomous car is probably decades away.  But partly self-driving cars will be here by the end of the decade, according to General Motors.

GM invited reporters to its Milford Proving Grounds this week to drive Cadillacs equipped with prototypes of the technology - which includes radar, cameras, GPS and maps that help the car drive itself.

Wikipedia

Chrysler Group is preparing an initial public offering of some of its shares.

Chrysler filed paperwork for the IPO with the federal government late Monday.

Chrysler shares haven't been publicly traded since 1998, when the company merged with Daimler AG. It is now majority owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA.

Chrysler

As tough new fuel economy regulations loom, automakers are scrambling to make their cars' powertrains - that's the engine, batteries, and transmission - as efficient as they can possibly be. 

But that won't be enough to meet the new standard of 49 miles per gallon average by 2025.

Cars will also have to be lighter, because in general, the lighter the car is, the less fuel it requires to move down the road.

So, automakers are looking at ways to use more aluminum and magnesium in their cars. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In what could be a victory for the Detroit-based United Auto Workers, a union official in Tennessee says a majority of workers at Volkswagen's assembly plant in the state have signed cards favoring the UAW’s representation in creating a German-style works council at the plant.

The official told the Associated Press that the cards are as legally binding as an election by the workers.

More from the AP:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The government is getting closer to selling all of its General Motors Co. stock.

The Treasury Department said in its August report to Congress that it sold $811 million worth of GM common stock last month.

The report dated Tuesday says the government has recovered about $35.4 billion of the $49.5 billion bailout it gave the Detroit automaker. That means taxpayers are still $14.1 billion in the hole.

automotiontv.com

It's not just "Gen Y" consumers using their smart phone apps, social media, and the internet to decide what car to buy.

Four out of five people used a broad array of digital sources of information when narrowing down their search, according to a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

About half did not have a brand preference when they began their search.

Researcher Arianne Walker says car companies need to be everywhere - because consumers are.

Another big recall, this time it's Toyota

Sep 10, 2013
Toyota

(AP) Toyota is recalling 880,584 RAV4 SUVs and Lexus HS 250h sedans in the U.S. and Canada because a repair announced last year may not have solved a safety problem.

RAV4s from the 2006 through 2011 model years and 2010 Lexus HS250hs are involved.

Toyota says if rear suspension nuts aren't tightened properly after a wheel alignment, the arms can rust and separate from the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

At least nine crashes and three injuries are related to the problem.

Peter Martorano / Flickr

There is no small touch of irony in the fact that as Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. car makers are enjoying boom times. Sales for the Big Three in July were the highest in seven years. GM, Ford and Chrysler are adding shifts and hiring workers. Good times.

But not for the city that gave birth to what we know as the U.S. auto industry.

Tom Walsh, business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, and Sonari Glinton, National Desk Reporter from NPR who has covered transportation and the auto industry, joined us today.

August was a good month for U.S. automakers.

Nearly all automakers are reporting double-digit sales gains as August shapes up to be another strong month for the industry.

Toyota

When Toyota first introduced the Prius in Japan in 1997 and in the U.S. in 2000, the company used its image as a maker of highly reliable, high quality cars to sell the new technology to early adopters.

"The Toyota halo was the closer," says Bob Carter, Toyota's Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. Inc. 

Now the opposite is true - Prius provides the halo for Toyota.

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