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There's been lots to celebrate in terms of sales for the U.S. car makers, bouncing back in a big way from their near-death experiences.

But those strong sales have the auto companies and their suppliers boosting production at a fast rate. And that could be having an unwanted effect---declining customer satisfaction with the vehicles they're turning out.

Claes Fornell, founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, joined us today to talk about the latest survey results.

Listen to the full interview above.

Customer satisfaction with car companies dropped slightly from last year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI).

The index tracks how happy people are with the things they buy. 

Satisfaction dropped even more for Detroit automakers.

Claus Fornell is the founder of the index.   He says two years ago, satisfaction with Detroit car companies and Japanese competitors was a tie.  Now, there's a gap again - and it's the widest in five years.

Wikimedia Commons

A new campaign is underway to try and save the original Model T plant in Highland Park. The Woodward Avenue Action Association launched an online fundraising drive asking supporters to pledge five dollars to turn the old assembly line into a museum and visitor's center.

Five dollars was the daily wage Henry Ford paid his workers so they could afford to buy the car they made.

Deborah Schutt with the Woodward Avenue Action Association says the Model T factory is an important piece of Michigan history. Schutt wants to use National Archives footage of the plant in action to remind visitors of the state's automotive heritage.

"This is where Henry Ford instituted the five dollars a day wage," she said. "What that allowed them to do is actually purchase what it is that they produced, which had a profound effect and really launched the middle class in America."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

BERKLEY, Mich. (AP) - A big day has dawned in Michigan for classic car enthusiasts in the state that put America on wheels.

The Woodward Dream Cruise officially kicks off Saturday. But the rides - and the legions of folks who love them - have been out for days already along the Detroit-area thoroughfare.

It's the 19th year for the free event, which is hosted by numerous Oakland County communities along the route.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

On Thursday, Ford Motor Company announced it is reducing the fuel economy label on its C-Max hybrid.

Ford's initial rating for the C-Max -- much vaunted in advertisements -- was 47 miles per gallon, in combined city and highway driving.

Now, the sticker will read 43.

Other automakers hope the potential embarrassment for Ford doesn't mean more problems for them.  Calculating fuel economy is complex and expensive enough as it is.

Just how do they get that number?

General Motors

GM will recall 292,879 Chevy Cruze cars from the  2011 and 2012 model years for a potential intermittent loss of partial braking power.

GM says it's aware of 27 low-speed crashes, some of which could be linked to the problem, but no injuries.

The automaker says in rare instances, a driver might have to apply extra force to the brake to get the car to stop.

The recall is for Cruze cars equipped with the 1.4 liter gasoline turbo engine and automatic transmission.

Dealers will remove and replace a microswitch in the power brake vacuum pipe assembly.

Ford Motor Company

The Ford C-Max's fuel efficiency isn't what the Detroit automaker advertised.

According to the Associated Press, this afternoon, Ford Motor Company will announce a change in the model's gas mileage, according to a Ford source who knows about the company's plan. The AP reports the source didn't want to be identified as the announcement has not been made public yet.

The AP writes that the move comes after an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces mileage estimates. The Ford source said that mileage estimate could be cut from 47 to 43 mpg. 

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Honda Civic was the only one out of a group of small cars to get a "good" rating on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new small overlap front crash test. 

The safety group gives cars a "good, acceptable, marginal, or poor" rating for how well a car protects drivers and passengers in different kinds of crashes.

The small overlap situation happens when just the front corner of a car near the headlight hits something, so the force of the impact is not absorbed by the front bumper, engine and hood.

GM

GM announced today that the price of a Chevy Volt will drop by $5,000:

The 2014 model will start at $34,995...

If consumers include federal tax credits ranging from $0-$7,500 (depending on individual tax liability), pricing could start at $27,495.

Alfred T. Palmer / U.S. Government

The historic Michigan factory where the iconic Rosie the Riveter and thousands of other women built B-24 bombers during World War II could face the wrecking ball two months from now.

A modest nonprofit is trying to raise enough money to salvage some of the massive plant, which Ford sold to General Motors after the war. The Yankee Air Museum figures the factory is the perfect place to start anew, after a devastating fire destroyed its collections in 2004.

Purdue Krannert School of Management

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (AP) - American Axle & Manufacturing co-founder and board chair Richard Dauch has died. He was 71.

The Oakland County medical examiner's office says Dauch died Friday of cancer at his Bloomfield Hills home.

A statement on the Detroit-based auto supplier's website reads: "Our thoughts and prayers are with Dick's family and friends."

Ford Motor Company archives / Ford

A preservation group has less than 60 days to raise enough money to save part of Henry Ford's historic Highland Park site.

The massive complex is where Ford built millions of Model T's on the first moving auto assembly line.

Ford sold the buildings to a group of investors in 1981.

Deborah Schutt is with the Woodward Avenue Action Association, which faces an October 1 deadline to complete its fundraising to buy the complex's Administration building and Executive Garage building.

"We actually have people that come from Europe and Asia that show up at the guard shack and want to come in and see Ford's Highland Park, because they've all read about it in their history books. They're amazed that they're unable to come in and access such a historic resource. People could be so proud of their heritage, we've gotta quit knocking it down!"

Schutt said the long-term hope is to use the site as part of an auto tourism center for southeast Michigan. 

Schutt envisions a bus tour, that could start from the Piquette factory, Ford's second factory, where Model Ts were laboriously hand-built, to the Highland Park facility, where they were assembled on a moving assembly line.  The final stop would be Ford's Rouge factory in Dearborn, which the company renovated, and where Ford 150s are currently assembled.  

Schutt said the project in no way is competition for Ford's Greenfield Village, which Henry Ford built to showcase the way of life that he knew as a boy - and a way of life that his inventions helped to destroy. 

Wikipedia

While Detroit embarks on the beginning days of its bankruptcy, the city’s Big Three automakers are reemerging from their own financial crises. It was four years ago that GM and Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

And as this month marks the 150th year after Henry Ford’s birth, we take a look at what it takes to run a big auto company, and the future of Michigan’s automakers.

Bob Lutz has held top positions at GM, Ford, Chrysler, and BMW. His most recent position was that of Vice Chairman of GM from 2001 to 2010.

His newest book gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the bosses Bob Lutz has worked for, some of the most legendary names in auto history. It's called Icons and Idiots, out from Portfolio/Penguin.

Bob Lutz joined us today to talk about his book.  

Listen to the full interview above.

thecarconnection.com

Analysts are expecting a robust month for auto sales.

Jesse Toprak is an analyst with TrueCar.com.  He says July sales were good across all categories.

“But two extreme segments stand out, we see very high demand for small cars and small SUVS, and a very healthy demand for large pickup trucks,” says Toprak.

Toprak says the increase in pickup sales is being driven by small business owners, and an uptick in home renovations.

Henry Ford at 150

Jul 29, 2013
Image from the Collections of The Henry Ford

Ford Motor Company celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henry Ford this week.

Bill Ford, Jr. is Henry Ford's great-grandson, and Executive Chairman of the company

Ford says the founder would have been pleased that his company is still a family business, 150 years later.

“I know Henry Ford would have been incredibly proud of the way his grandchildren led the company through the most difficult times,” says Ford

Ford Motor Company took out a $24 billion loan in 2006, using its trademark blue oval as part of the collateral.

General Motors

General Motors is number two in global auto sales so far this year, just behind Toyota, and just in front of Volkswagon.

So why didn't GM make more money than its Dearborn rival, Ford Motor Company, in the second quarter?

Both companies made $1.2 billion, but Ford made that money based on a lower volume of sales.

Ford Motor Company's official website

Have you looked at a Ford financial report lately?

Ford Motor Company posted its 16th consecutive quarter of profitability on Wednesday.  The company made $1.2 billion dollars, driven by strong results in North America, combined with improved results in every other region of the world.

Ford is still losing money in Europe, as expected, due to the region's protracted recession.  But even in Europe, there is some good news.

Ford

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - Ford and Toyota are ending joint research into hybrid systems for trucks and SUVs. The companies said Tuesday that they will each develop the systems independently.

Ford and Toyota agreed to the partnership two years ago after the CEOs of both companies met by chance in an airport. Engineers talked frequently and paid visits to each other's labs.

But Ford product development chief Raj Nair said both companies need to focus on finishing development and putting the systems into vehicles. Ford wants to offer hybrid trucks and SUVs by the end of the decade.

There is currently no full gas-electric hybrid system on the market for rear-wheel-drive vehicles like trucks. The hybrid systems in Ford and Toyota cars are made for front-wheel-drive vehicles and don't have enough power for trucks. 

Ford Motor Company

Earlier this year, Ford Motor Company announced it would hire 3,000 new white collar employees in 2013 to meet growing demand for its products, up from the originally planned 2,200.

The company has hired 1,500 and now, at the halfway point, Ford is starting a social media campaign to find the remaining workers. Of the 3,000 new jobs, 2,400 will be technical professionals who will work in product development, manufacturing, quality, purchasing and information technology. 

Alana Holland / Michigan Radio

The old GM Willow Run assembly plant, the same plant where Rosie the Riveter once worked, is in danger of being demolished. That is, unless the Yankee Air Museum can raise $4.5 million dollars in the next 15 days, as Tracy Samilton reported.

We also interviewed Dennis Norton, founder of the Yankee Air Museum, and Ray Hunter, the current Chair of the Museum, about their efforts to save the plant on Stateside.

The museum hopes to use the old plant to house its collection of exhibits and historic planes.

One of these planes is the B-17G "Yankee Lady," a bomber developed for the United States Air Force during World War II. The Yankee Lady is one of the few remaining models of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers that remain flyable today.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton and Alana Holland got to experience first hand this historic plane in action. View the slideshow above for a look at the Yankee Lady in flight.

Alana Holland / Michigan Radio

With the touch of a button, a massive two-story-tall bay door opens slowly, as an insistent alarm sounds, to reveal part of the former Willow Run bomber plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan. A heavy waft of must and dampness rushes out from the dark interior.

Once, scores of B-24 bombers exited these bay doors, on their way to aid the American war effort. 

"It works better than my garage door back home," says Grant Trigger with a grin, as the more than 60-year-old doors lift.

Trigger is the Michigan Cleanup Manager for RACER Trust, which handles the vacant GM Willow Run Assembly Plant, along with scores of other properties abandoned by the automaker as part of its bankruptcy reorganization in 2009. 

The factory began its life as a Ford Motor Company World War II factory, famous for being the place where Rosie the Riveter worked. GM later bought the plant and converted it to make automobiles.

But soon it will be demolished, unless a modest museum can raise more than $4.5 million in the next 15 days.

Google Maps

Chrysler's Jefferson North auto plant is one of the most successful in the world, and one of the last to remain in Detroit. You probably won't envy its zip code though, if you zoom in and take a look at the surrounding neighborhoods, much of the city blocks are empty and overgrown.

Chrysler

When Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was given control of Chrysler in 2009, it wasn't just the Detroit automaker's cars that needed to be improved. Many of Chrysler's factories were sorely in need of upgrades, too.

This week, Chrysler will give tours to media to show off an $850 million renovation of the Sterling Heights Assembly plant, which includes a built-from-the-ground-up new paint shop.

On Thursday, Chrysler will offer media a chance to see the upgraded Toledo Assembly plant, where the new Jeep Cherokee is being built.

Ford Motor Company

Consumers aren't the only folks to get scared and pull tight the purse strings during (and after) deep recessions.

Auto industry executives do it, too.

A survey by EY (formerly Ernst and Young) found that despite a dramatic increase in optimism about the economy, many auto industry executives say they're delaying big investments in acquisitions, equipment, and jobs.

52% in the most recent EY survey said the economy is improving - up from 22% just six months ago.

Timeline of the U.S. auto industry.
bizbrain.org

We here at Michigan Radio follow the ups and downs of the U.S. auto industry.

Our auto reporter, Tracy Samilton, stays on top of the recalls, the TARP money, and the competition from overseas.

But there's nothing like stepping back for a little perspective.

This infographic by BizBrain.org gives us a snapshot of the U.S. auto industry over the last 90 years.

Let us know if you think anything major is missing from this timeline.

media.gm.com / staff

General Motors and Honda are joining together to develop cars that run on hydrogen.

The two companies are leaders in fuel cell technology, which is still many years away from being viable --and affordable.

GM and Honda have had some joint projects before, although combining fuel cell car programs is the most ambitious.

The two companies together have only about 200 of the cars on the road, which generate electricity in a hydrogen fuel cell.

This year's vehicle Initial Quality Survey by the business tracking firm J.D Power and Associates is a bit of a stunner.

The survey asks people how many problems they had with their car in the first 90 days of ownership.

The top auto company was GM. 

The company's GMC brand was second only to Porsche.  That's the first time GMC has ranked anywhere near that high in the history of the survey.   Chevy was fifth, also a dramatic rise in the rankings.

Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing / www.engin.umich.edu

The Solar Car team at the University of Michigan unveiled its newest car today.

The car is called “Generation” and it will represent the U of M team in The World Solar Challenge this fall.

Ford / YouTube

Ford Motor Company recently started testing its cars with the help of robots.

The company does robotic testing on vehicles for durability at the Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, according to a recent story from MLive.

Michael Wayland reported that Ford has used robots to test drive eight of its vehicles, including several truck models as well as the Fiesta.

Chrysler

It was called a "rare and risky" move to refuse a recall after the government requested it, but it seemed Chrysler was poised to do just that today.

Now, the automaker says executives have "resolved their differences" with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and will voluntarily recall the vehicles in question.

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