Auto

Auto/Economy
10:57 am
Tue April 19, 2011

General Motors hiking car and truck prices

Prices of new cars will be going up.
Emilio Labrador Flickr

Higher commodity prices are translating into higher prices for cars and trucks.

GM announced their prices will go up - joining Ford and Toyota.

From the Associated Press:

General Motors says it will raise car and truck prices by an average of $123 per vehicle to make up for its increased oil and metal costs.

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Borders
1:01 am
Tue April 19, 2011

Borders Books liquidation sales coming to a close

The sale is already over at this former Borders location in Ann Arbor
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The company handling the liquidation sales at more than 200 Borders bookstores says most of those stores will close by this weekend.  The liquidation sales have already been completed at many of the stores, including one in Ann Arbor. 

Rick Kaye is a spokesman for Hilco Merchant Services, the company handling the liquidation sales.  

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Auto/Economy
11:51 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Hydrogen fuel cell cars fight possible funding cuts (video)

Battery electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt count the federal government as a good friend these days.  The government has spent two and a half billion dollars in just a few years to boost battery technology. 

But there’s another way to propel an electric car– with hydrogen.  And proponents are making a last-ditch effort to convince the Obama administration that fuel cell cars are ready for prime time.  

Take Honda’s fuel cell electric car, the FCX Clarity.  It can go about 240 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel.  About 60 miles to the gallon if you want to compare it to gasoline.  The only emission from the car is water so pure you could drink it

(Here's a video of me taking the FCX Clarity for a test drive)

There are emissions from the process used to create hydrogen, from natural gas.  But the emissions are about 60% less than comparable emissions from cars using internal combustion engines.

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Economy
4:12 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Judge rules in favor of Michigan's smoking ban (but legal fight will probably continue)

(photo by Michigan Radio news staff)

A Macomb County judge has upheld the constitutionality of Michigan’s smoking ban.   But, the ruling will likely not be the last word.   Michigan bar and restaurant owners say they have lost millions of dollars in business since the smoking ban took effect last May.   

The owner of Sporty O’Toole’s, a Macomb County bar, took his fight to court, after he was fined for allowing his patrons to smoke.  A circuit court judge threw out the fine, but also ruled the law is constitutional.  

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Jobs
12:44 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

McDonald's "National Hiring Day" is tomorrow

McDonald's hopes to hire thousands of new workers.
Miguel Vaca Flickr

"Would you like some fries with that?"

That’s the phrase many are perfecting for McDonald's National Hiring Day tomorrow. Many of the McDonald’s  jobs will be in the Midwest.

McDonald's got its start here in the Midwest, and it has a substantial presence throughout the Great Lakes states.

That’s why 10,000 of the 50,000 new workers, the company wants will be based across the region.

The McDonald's in downtown Chicago (on Chicago and State) is one location that is hiring. Nick Karavites and his family own that restaurants and 18 others across the city.

"Not only are we looking to hire cashiers but also hospitality staff and kitchen staff," says Karavites.

As the employment market improves, job seekers can get more selective about where they work.

Karavites said pay at their restaurants averages $9 an hour, and that all workers can participate in a McDonald’s Insurance program.

McDonald’s says the company needs more workers because last year’s sales were up five percent and continues to grow.

Flint
12:02 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Reporter rides along with cops in Michigan's "Murdertown"

Closed on the weekends. Doors "locked at dusk" on weekdays.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

"We ain't cops anymore. We're librarians. We take reports. We don't fight crime."

That's what officer Steve Howe told New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff.

LeDuff rode along with Howe and wrote about the experience in his Sunday Magazine article "Riding Along With the Cops in Murdertown, U.S.A."

The desperation in Flint is well known. After several years of cuts to vital city services, the city is still looking at a projected budget deficit of $17 million.

LeDuff writes that the sign on the door of Flint's Police Headquarters says it all "Closed weekends and holidays."

LeDuff writes that another sign in town is a lie. He's talking about the sign on an archway that names Flint "Vehicle City."

But the name is a lie. Flint isn’t Vehicle City anymore. The Buick City complex is gone. The spark-plug plant is gone. Fisher Body is gone.

What Flint is now is one of America’s murder capitals. Last year in Flint, population 102,000, there were 66 documented murders. The murder rate here is worse than those in Newark and St. Louis and New Orleans. It’s even worse than Baghdad’s.

The murders in Flint continue to pile up. More than 20 so far this year.

Mayor Dayne Walling held a press conference recently saying "the killings and criminals must be stopped."

But who's going to stop them? LeDuff reports there are only six patrolmen working on a Saturday night in Flint and the city has laid off two-thirds of its police force in the last three years.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported that Flint's Public Safety Director Alvern Lock denied "that cuts to Flint’s police department have played a role in the increase in the city’s increase homicide rate."

But when reading LeDuff's piece, you have to wonder.

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Economy
11:54 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Weather & fuel costs on the minds of Michigan farmers

Instead of snow, Michigan farmers would rather see something like this in thier fields
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It’s planting time for many Michigan farmers.  In addition to the weather, farmers are closely watching fuel prices this Spring.   

The price of fuel affects practically every aspect of farming in Michigan, from the cost of the diesel in the tractor to the price of the fertilizer on the fields.  Bob Boehm is the director of the commodities department for the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says fuel costs are between 7% to 15% of the average Michigan farm’s budget, but may be higher this year.  

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Economy
6:42 am
Mon April 18, 2011

Personal finance: What it takes to become 'mortgage-free'

The Murphy family says "living below their means" helped them pay off their mortgage early.
Photo courtesy of the Murphys

In 1950, more than half of Americans owned their homes free and clear. No surprise that number has shrunk over the years.  But those who count themselves mortgage-free are still out there. The 2010 U.S. Census shows 1 out of every 3 homeowners owns their home free and clear. In a story produced for Marketplace Money, we look at what it takes to become mortgage-free.

Meet the Murphys

Mike and Kate Murphy live in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago, with two of their kids, Becky and Tommy, and their pet fish. They bought their charming, 3-bedroom brick house in 1996 for $156,000.

They originally started with a $110,000 mortgage. Mike Murphy says it was " obviously the largest mortgage we had ever taken out."

At the time, Kate brought in $30,000 a year, designing theater costumes part time. Mike was making $50,000 as a public school teacher:

At first they paid $1,100 a month on the mortgage. Refinancing dropped the payment to just under a $1,000. But they decided to pay a little more each month -- first $100, then $150 more.

Fast forward 13 years and they owned their house free and clear.

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Health care
5:11 pm
Sun April 17, 2011

Many Michigan hospitals lost both patients and money in 2009

Many hospitals lost both money and patients in 2009, according to Michigan Health Market Review.

In 2009, Detroit hospitals lost $58 million, with the biggest losses at Henry Ford, St. John, and Trinity Health Systems. 

Allan Baumgarten publishes the review.

He says the hospitals lost the money on their investments in the stock market, rather than patient care.

"And when the market crashed at the end of 2008, that had a really harmful effect on several of these hospitals."

Baumgarten thinks hospitals will show a profit in 2010 and this year because the stock market has recovered. 

All is not well in other areas, however. 

Fewer patients are using Michigan hospitals.  That"s because many people lost their health insurance -- or their employers switched them to high-deductible health insurance plans.

Baumbarten says high-deductible plans cut down on surgeries for conditions that are not life-threatening. 

"If the doctor says, 'I'd like you to have this scoping procedure on your knee, it will improve your golf game,' a couple years ago, somebody might have said, 'well, it will only cost me $100 out-of-pocket, so why not?'  But if I've got a high-deductible health plan, this procedure might cost me $2,000 out-of-pocket."

Revenue at thirty-three other hospitals across the state also dropped in 2009, led by losses at the University of Michigan and several other health systems which lost large amounts in their stock market portfolios.

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Economy
3:59 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Rep. Miller: Michiganders pay too much for national flood insurance

U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan says the federal government should not be in the flood insurance business.
totalmortgage.com

Michigan homeowners whose homes are not at risk for floods are footing the bill for people whose homes are in danger. That’s according to a lawmaker from  Michigan who says that’s not fair.

U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller wants to eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program, or at least let Michigan opt out of the system.

Miller says Michigan residents pay high rates to help homeowners in other parts of the country.

"You have a very expensive vacation home that has been ruined by a hurricane or a flood several times, and the federal flood insurance is still paying you to rebuild. If you want to have a home like that, God love you, that's fine, but I don't know why people in Michigan should have to pay high premiums."

Miller is taking part in a hearing Monday evening in Harrison Township with homeowners, realtors, insurers, builders and lenders.

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Auto/Economy
10:05 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Ford expands F-150 truck recall

Ford has recalled its 2004-2006 F-150 pickups because of an air-bag problem.
autos.aol.com

 Ford is expanding a recall of its F-150 pickup.

The recall now includes nearly 1.2 million trucks because of an air bag defect and covers trucks from the 2004 through 2006 model years.

The company in February had agreed to recall more than 150,000 of the trucks.

But on Thursday,  U.S. safety regulators said that Ford will add to the recall because the trucks’ air bags can go off  unexpectedly and injure drivers.

Ford had resisted expanding the recall.

The F-series pickup is the top-selling vehicle in America.

Economy
1:01 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Sen. Levin accuses mortgage lenders of "greed and deception"

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, (D) Michigan
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin's office

A new report lays the blame for much of Detroit’s foreclosure problems at the feet of one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. 

In 2003, Washington Mutual Bank’s CEO said he wanted to turn his bank into “the Wal-Mart of Banking."  His plan was to focus on low and moderate income borrowers deemed “too risky” by other lenders. 

By 2008, federal regulators seized Washington Mutual and the company filed for bankruptcy protection. 

What happened? 

Washington Mutual had taken major losses in the subprime loan market.  Its subsidiary, Long Beach Mortgage Corporation was for a time the second biggest subprime mortgage lender in Detroit.  Between 2005 and 2007, more than half of those loans ended in foreclosure.

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin says Washington Mutual’s subprime loan practices “devastated” neighborhoods and families in Detroit.  At the end of a year long investigation, Levin’s released a report blaming reckless lending and lax federal oversight for the near collapse of the nation’s banking system in 2008.

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Economy
1:00 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Home foreclosures inched higher in Michigan last month

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The number of home foreclosures in Michigan inched higher last month. One in every 311 homes in Michigan received a foreclosure noticed in March. The number of foreclosures was up about 4 percent from February.

Michigan had the nation’s fifth highest home foreclosure rate in March, behind Nevada, Arizona, California and Utah.     

Daren Bloomquist with Realty Trac says mortgage holders are starting to send more initial foreclosure notices and repossess more homes in Michigan. Bloomquist says an improving economy is the only way to reduce future foreclosure notices in Michigan. 

 “The more the economy improves and jobs improve during the next couple months the less we’ll see that huge spike in foreclosure numbers down the road.”  

While March’s foreclosure numbers rose slightly, overall Michigan’s home foreclosure numbers declined during the first three months of the year.

Economy
2:27 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Michigan's jobless rate held steady in March

Khalilshah Flickr

One in 10 people in Michigan are out of work and looking for a job. The state's March unemployment rate was 10.3 percent. That's almost unchanged from the February rate of 10.4 percent. But it's a full three points below the March 2010 rate of 13.3 percent.

Michigan added 79,000 jobs over the past year, mostly in temporary help, IT, and the auto in industry.

Improvements in the unemployment rate have been modest so far this year, but reflect real job gains and not people leaving the workforce.

Business
1:40 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Sites chosen for new wind farms in Thumb area

Three new wind farms are expected to generate enough power for 100,000 homes in the Thumb region.

Michigan’s thumb region will soon be dotted with new wind farms.  DTE Energy says the project will cost about $225 million.

The 50 wind turbines to be built in Huron and Sanilac counties should generate enough energy to power about 100,000 homes.

DTE's Scott Simons says while two West Michigan lawmakers recently opposed building  wind farms in the Great Lakes, the Thumb plan has Lansing’s stamp of approval.

"I would think the legislature is behind these kinds of projects, and we're going full steam ahead toward meeting the renewable energy goals that have been set by the Legislature," Simons says.

 DTE customers will pay for the wind farms with a small surcharge on their monthly bills.

Auto/Economy
6:06 pm
Tue April 12, 2011

Detroit 3 ready to hire - but not at previous level

The Detroit Three are poised to create new auto jobs for the first time in years.  But an expert at the Center for Automotive Research warns that auto manufacturing jobs will never recover to their former levels. 

Ford, GM, and Chrysler closed a lot of plants over the past ten years, so many of the remaining plants are working at full capacity as new car sales improve. 

Sean McAlinden is an economist with the Center for Automotive Research .

"Almost the last layoff at GM and Ford have been recalled," says McAlinden, "so any additional production through the summer requires new hiring."

McAlinden says the Detroit Three will likely hire 35,000 people in the next five years.  

But that’s only about a third of the people who lost jobs with the companies in the past few years.   

McAlinden says auto jobs will plateau after 2015, which is why Michigan still needs to diversify its economy.

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Auto/Economy
11:17 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Fiat meets another benchmark - increases stake in Chrysler to 30%

You can buy the Fiat 500 in the U.S. More access to the U.S. market was one reason Fiat took over Chrysler.
Fiat USA

During the U.S. government led bailout in 2009, Fiat took over management control of Chrysler and was given a 20% stake in the company.

The government said Fiat's stake in Chrysler could increase to as much as 35% so long as they met three milestones.

Now, the Italian company now controls 30% of Chrysler after meeting the second milestone set forth by the U.S. government.

From the Detroit News:

Fiat SpA announced today it has increased its share in partner Chrysler Group LLC to 30 percent effective immediately.

The additional 5 percent stake is triggered automatically with Fiat's completion of the second of three performance-related conditions.

The first, achieved in January, was awarded for Chrysler's assembly in Dundee of a fuel-efficient Fiat engine.

The second condition was that the Italian automaker help Chrysler generate cumulative revenue of $1.5 billion outside North America and use Fiat's dealer network in Latin America to distribute Chrysler vehicles.

The third milestone, according to the Globe and Mail, is the development of a 40 mpg Dodge car built on a Fiat platform.

Once that milestone is reached, Fiat could solidify its ownership of Chrysler. From the Globe and Mail:

Dodge is developing a compact car on a Fiat platform that will reach 40 miles per gallon, which would satisfy the third test set by Treasury in 2009.

Mr. Marchionne told analysts on a conference call in October that he expected Fiat would meet all of the Treasury’s hurdles by the end of 2011.

The indications of progress are significant because the sooner Fiat can raise its Chrysler stake to 35 per cent, the quicker it could exercise an option to take majority ownership of the U.S. automaker.

The Detroit News reports that the current ownership of Chrysler breaks down this way:

  1. 59.2% - United Auto Workers retiree health care trust
  2. 30% - Fiat
  3. 8.6% - U.S. government
  4. 2.2% - Canada and Ontario governments combined
Detroit
11:12 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Detroit mayor warns a state takeover is "inevitable" without union concessions

Detroit mayor Dave Bing dleivers his budget proposal to the city council
(courtesy City of Detroit)

Detroit’s mayor says the city’s unions will have to give big contract concessions or the city of Detroit may end up in the hands of a state appointed Emergency Financial Manager. Mayor Dave Bing outlined his budget plan to the city council this morning.

Bing says pension and health care costs threaten to force the city into insolvency.  

“If we are unable or unwilling to make these changes, an Emergency Financial Manager will be appointed by the state to make them for us.  It’s that simple.”  

The city is facing a $155 million budget deficit. The mayor says that could grow to over a billion dollars in five years, unless deep cuts are made now. 

Michigan’s new Emergency Financial Manager law gives the state appointed administrator broad powers to throw out union contracts and make budget decisions.

Auto/Economy
6:49 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Toyota tells dealers to plan for inventory shortfalls - and workers to plan for extra days off

Toyota will shut down its U.S. factories five extra days this spring because of parts shortages – and warns its American dealers to expect inventory shortfalls this summer. 

Rick Hodges is General Manager of Victory Toyota in Canton, Michigan.   It’s bad news, especially in the wake of last year’s recall crisis. 

"When the weather breaks, March all the way through August is normally when we’re going to sell 2/3 of all of our vehicles," says Hodges, "And it’s going to hurt our sales, sure."

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