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Economy
12:27 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Michigan retailers feeling pain from soaring gasoline prices

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan retailers say 4 dollar a gallon gasoline is taking a bite out of their business.  The latest survey by the Michigan Retailers Association says state businesses saw a marked decline in sales in March, as gasoline prices started to soar.    Michigan retail sales slumped to their lowest level since last July. 

Tom Scott is with the association.  

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Economy
8:39 am
Wed April 27, 2011

Whirlpool reports higher net income in the 1st quarter

2011 is off to a good start for Whirlpool.  The Benton Harbor appliance maker reported its net earnings rose in the first quarter.   Whirlpool reports its net earnings for the first three months of 2011 clocked in at $169 million, up from $164 million in the first quarter of 2010.  Total sales increased 3% to $4.4 billion.  

First-quarter operating profit totaled $228 million compared with $241 million in the prior year.  On an adjusted basis, first quarter 2011 operating profit(2) totaled $221 million compared to $287 million in 2010.  Results were favorably impacted by cost reduction and productivity initiatives, increased monetization of certain tax credits, and higher unit volume.  These favorable factors were offset by lower product price/mix and higher material and oil-related costs. 

Jeff Fettig is Whirlpool's CEO.  

"Our first quarter results reflect our ongoing cost reduction efforts and continued innovation investments, which helped to mitigate significant material cost inflation....We recently announced a 16% dividend increase, reflective of the success of our brand value creation strategy and our strong financial position.  We remain committed to attracting and retaining consumers to our brands, providing excellent service and value to our trade customers and consumers while driving lower costs and higher quality across our global operations."  

Auto/Economy
9:56 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Ford making money but challenges ahead

Ford announced its biggest first quarter profit since 1998.  The company made 2.6 billion dollars, and predicts it will remain profitable for the rest of the year despite some economic headwinds. 

But Ford also faces some unique challenges if it wants to keep growing.

Company CEO Alan Mulally likes to joke about the “small home improvement loan” of $23-billion the company took out in 2006.   That money paid for the company to improve its products and avoid bankruptcy. 

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Auto/Economy
1:39 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Third high-tech battery plant opening in West Michigan

The new LG Chem plant will be making batteries for the Chevy Volt in Holland, Michigan
redgoober4life flickr

Another advanced battery manufacturing plant is getting ready to open in West Michigan.

LG Chem will be opening in Holland later this year. It’s hosting a job fair today to fill 100 open positions with the company.

Two other advanced battery makers have also recently set up shop in West Michigan.

Jeremy Hagemeyer is with LG Chem.

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Auto/Economy
11:58 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Electric cars score big in safety tests

A Chevy Volt being crash tested. The big batteries in the car make them safter according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf top ratings for safety in crash tests.  The results could ease any lingering concerns people might have about the safety of electric cars.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says the results show that customers don't have to trade safety for environmentally friendly electric cars.  And the heavy batteries in the cars actually make them safer.

"We can have environmentally friendly, green vehicles and not give up the safety advances that we've made in the bargain… Even though they are small cars in their dimensions, they are considerably heavier than other small cars weighing as much as some midsize or even large cars.  And that is a safety advantage."

Car companies say the huge batteries inside electric cars shut down in the event of a crash to greatly reduce the risk of an electrical fire.

Both the Leaf and the Volt cost more than most similar sized small cars. But Rader says as the price of gas goes up, and the cost of producing the cars goes down, electric cars will become more economical.

Auto/Economy
11:34 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Ford makes out big in the first quarter

In the first three months of the year, Ford made $2.5 billion.
Marcus Wong Flickr

Ford Motor Company announced a profit of more than $2.5 billion in the first three months of the year.

That's the company's best quarterly performance since 1998.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally expects the rest of 2011 to be profitable as well - despite some headwinds like low U.S. consumer confidence and rising commodity and gas prices:

"Even though it's a slower recovery and the fuel prices are moving up, the demand is there and we are really pleased to have the product line that the consumers really do want and value."

Mulally says he's  optimistic that car sales will continue improving:

"In the automobile industry, the pentup demand is tremendous, you know the average age of car ownership is over ten years now."

Mulally says Ford also improved its balance sheet by reducing its debt by another $2.5 billion in the first quarter.

Ford took out a huge loan in 2006 before the recession.  That loan enabled the company to improve its cars during the economic downturn and avoid bankruptcy.

Since last year, the company has paid off $17 billion of debt.

Economy
1:55 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

MSU: Workplace deaths increased in 2010

(MIOSHA)

The number of people who died on the job in Michigan increased in 2010.  Michigan State University researchers track workplace deaths.   Researcher Ken Rosenman says agriculture recorded the most on-the-job fatalities last year.  He says workplace homicides also more than doubled in 2010. 

In all, 123 people died in the workplace in Michigan last year. 

Rosenman insists most, if not all, job deaths could have been prevented.  

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Auto/Economy
5:54 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

China will be tough competitor to U.S. in electric cars in future, says study

Fears that China is destined for dominance of the electric vehicle and advanced battery industry may be overblown, suggests a new study by the management consulting firm PRTM.

Yes, the Chinese government is strongly committed to the electrification of cars and trucks.  After all, China is even more dependent on foreign oil than the U.S.  And its cities are fouled by pollution caused in large part by internal combustion engines.

And yes, China has spent five times more than the U.S. on helping its electric car industry.

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Auto/Economy
3:30 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Report: Japanese automakers check exports for radiation

The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Crippled nuclear power plants have fueled worries of radiation exposure.
Douglas Sprott Flickr

From the Associated Press:

An auto industry group says Japanese automakers have begun checking the level of radiation on cars to be exported from Japan amid a nuclear leak crisis.

Hirokazu Furukawa, a spokesman for the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said Friday the move was to ease worries among foreign consumers about radiation leaking from a tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant in northern Japan.

The automakers will inspect radiation inside a car and on its tires before shipment.

No radiation has been detected on cars to be exported from Japan, Furukawa said. Automakers are currently checking the level of radiation on cars to be shipped from eight ports.

Furukawa said around 10 cars out every 5,000 are being checked for radiation.

Auto/Economy
2:02 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Stabenow says manufacturing and agriculture will revitalize Michigan economy

Stabenow says Michigan can still benefit from the auto industry
Office of Senator Stabenow

Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow says the future of the Michigan economy depends on a strong auto and manufacturing base, as well as agriculture:

“You can’t have an economy in this country unless you make things and grow things. And the fundamental part in making things really is the auto industry and manufacturing. ”

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Auto/Economy
12:37 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Warren Mayor says GM likely to add more jobs in city

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts says GM will invest in its Powertrain facility and Tech Center in Warren, Michigan
Manoli Katakis creative commons

A final decision has not been made, but Warren Mayor Jim Fouts released a statement saying GM is considering two investments in its Technical Center and Powertrain Facility in Warren.

Fouts says the investments add up to $450 million and would create 426 new jobs.

From Fouts' statement:

"These possible projects are the result of several meetings between city representatives, including me, and GM officials. I cannot stress too much how important these new investments would be to our city. They mean more jobs and ultimately more tax revenues for Warren. I am confident GM will choose these locations for new investments because the corporation realizes Warren is a business-friendly community that will go the extra mile to encourage businesses to expand or relocate here."

The mayor said Warren became a city in 1957 because of the construction of GM's Tech Center in the city. And he encouraged other business to move there.

Economy
11:14 am
Fri April 22, 2011

Two Michigan retirees flip the script on ATM fees

The law says banks have to post how much they plan to charge you on their ATM machines.
user eflon Flickr

Two retirees from Fowlerville, Michigan, Nancy Kinder and Ray Harrison, have filed several lawsuits challenging banks on ATM fee notifications.

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act says the amount the bank will charge for use of the ATM machine "shall be posted in a prominent and conspicuous location on or at the automated teller machine at which the electronic fund transfer is initiated by the consumer."

Tresa Baldas reports in the Detroit Free Press that the retirees have been taking advantage of this part of the law:

Kinder and Harrison have been "combing the state by car, looking for ATMs that don't have the notification sign, records show. When they spot one, they make a withdrawal, take a picture of the ATM, and then it's off to court."

They've sued 36 banks in two years and they recently filed five lawsuits in one day.

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Economy
5:30 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Muskegon Correctional Facility could be privatized

The Muskegon Correctional Facility will close June 1, but could be reopened as a county jail operated by a private company.
correctionsreporter.com

A West Michigan prison slated to close in June could reopen as a county jail -- under private management.  

The Muskegon Correctional Facility houses Pennsylvania inmates right now as part of a deal that kept the prison from closing previously.

But that deal is ending four years early and the prison will close on June 1st.

Last week, a private company – GEO Group – toured the facility with state and county officials.  The company already owns and operates a private prison in Baldwin.

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Auto/Economy
2:35 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Toyota recalls certain RAV4s and Highlanders

A 2008 Toyota Highlander - one of the cars being recalled.
IFCAR wikimedia commons

An airbag issued is prompting Toyota to recall some RAV4s and Highlanders.

From the Associated Press:

The recall includes about 214,000 RAV4s from 2007 and 2008 and approximately 94,000 Highlander and Highlander HV vehicles from 2008. All of the vehicles involved were sold in the U.S.

The recall does not include any other Lexus or Toyota vehicles.

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Auto/Economy
9:33 am
Thu April 21, 2011

Fiat moving closer to a majority stake in Chrysler

Chrysler Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
user fiatontheweb creative commons

Updated: 

News that Fiat will soon acquire a bigger stake in Chrysler is another sign the merger is working.

Jim Hall is president of  the auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics.  He says the merger benefits both companies.  Fiat gets access to the U.S. market and to Chrysler’s more profitable vehicles, and Chrysler gets access to Fiat's global markets and its fuel-saving technology. 

And the merger could save the companies money on parts.

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Auto/Economy
2:20 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Another gas price hike coming?

Another increase in store at Michigan pumps?
user Orin Zebest Flickr

Gas prices in Michigan are expected to go higher, according to an online service that shares information on fuel prices. GasBuddy.com collects data on gasoline prices all across Michigan and the rest of the country.  The company says average gas prices in Michigan are about to jump up  to between $4.05 and $4.15 a gallon.

This from an e-mail sent out by Gasbuddy.com:

We're at increasing odds for a price hike. Oil prices have continued to rally this week, meaning it may be price hike time. With the rise in wholesale costs already being passed on to stations, odds are this hike will occur any time in the next 48 hours.

Patrick DeHaan, the senior petroleum analyst with Gas Buddy, says several factors, including refineries switching to summer blends of gasoline,  are behind rising gas prices. 

“Unfortunately, until these refineries get going and finish their maintenance and boost production…we will continue to see supply dwindle and that will continue to impact prices.”  

DeHaan predicts Michigan gasoline prices will continue to edge higher between now and Memorial Day.

The White House says speculators on Wall Street are driving oil prices up. President Obama made some remarks on speculation in Virginia accoring to UPI:

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech in Virginia, said it's not a lack of supply that is driving oil prices up on the commodity markets.

"The problem is, is that oil is sold on these world markets, and speculators and people make various bets, and they say, you know what, we think that maybe there's a 20 percent chance that something might happen in the Middle East that might disrupt oil supply, so we're going to bet that oil is going to go up real high," he said. "And that spikes up prices significantly."

In the article, Bart Chilton, a member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says speculation makes up part of the price at the pump, "there is a Wall Street premium on gas prices today. Every time folks fill up their tanks, they can expect that several dollars are due to speculation."

Speculation was a big driver of the skyrocketing oil prices back in 2009.

Auto/Economy
1:26 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Two auto shows, a world apart

Carmakers are launching new products simultaneously at the New York and Shanghai auto shows.
autos.yahoo.com

Automakers are hoping to dazzle customers at opposite ends of the world this week as the New York and Shanghai auto shows are run simultaneously.

Joel Ewanick  is General Motors’ Vice President for U.S. Marketing.

He says all automakers are taking a global approach to sales as markets like China continue to grow.

Ewanick says Chevy is unveiling a different version of its new Malibu in Shanghai, where it might be seen as more of a luxury vehicle.

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Auto/Economy
5:18 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Stabenow, top U.S. trade official talk exports in Detroit

Debbie Stabenow

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and a top Obama Administration trade Official were in Detroit Tuesday, talking about how to boost U.S. exports.

President Obama wants to double U.S. exports by 2015.  Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sanchez joined Stabenow to trade ideas with local business leaders.

Sanchez says the Obama administration is making progress on leveling the playing field for U.S. exports.

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Economy
4:03 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Autos and food processors get state tax breaks

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Five companies will get tax breaks from the state of Michigan to expand their businesses and create nearly 1,400 new jobs. The businesses received tax incentives from the state Tuesday in exchange for the jobs and around $163 million dollars in private investments.

The tax breaks went to two primary industries; automotive manufacturing for companies near Detroit and Flint and food processing for companies in West Michigan.

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Auto/Economy
3:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Toyota announces more production cuts at North American plants

Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, after the earthquake. Toyota announced more production cuts today.
Takashi Nakano vis user tex texin Flickr

Parts shortages from Japan continue as Toyota announces more production cuts - from the Associated Press:

Toyota is extending production cuts at its North American factories through May because of parts shortages from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The company says production will be suspended in North America on Mondays and Fridays from April 26 through June 3. During the same period, plants will run at half capacity on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Toyota also said Tuesday that U.S. production will be suspended the week of May 30 after the Memorial Day holiday. Canadian production will be suspended the week of May 23 in conjunction with Victoria Day.

Plans after June 3 will be announced later. Toyota says no workers will be laid off.

The company last week announced Monday and Friday suspensions from April 15 to 25.

Detroit has the "Big Three," but Japan has the "Big Five" (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, and Mazda).

This info-graphic from the Globe and Mail captures how interconnected the Japanese auto economy is to the rest of the world.

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