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Auto/Economy
1:34 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Facelift for Detroit's Cobo Center

Screen shot from a video showing plans for renovating the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit
Cobo Center Press Release

Cobo Center in Detroit is going to get more than a coat of new paint between now and next year’s auto show.

The regional authority now running Detroit’s downtown convention center announced today Cobo will undergo a $221 million renovation.

Cobo Center’s general manager, Thom Connors, says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the North American International Auto Show:

"More leasable space, more attractive space, and increased banquet and meeting room capacity and new exhibition space. Its going to make it an easier sell to a wider variety of potential clients.  And allow us to do larger, multiple events at the same time, as well as larger capacity events in the future."

As part of  the renovation, Cobo Arena will be replaced with a 40,000 square foot ballroom space.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the plans, announced this morning, to renovate downtown Detroit's Cobo Center:

The project will be ready by the 2014 North American International Auto Show, and it will “open up” Cobo to the Detroit River with a new atrium entrance and sweeping architectural changes, said Larry Alexander, chair of the five-member Cobo Regional Convention Facility Authority.

The work will mark the first major overhaul of Cobo since 1989. Cobo was built in 1960. In recent years, Cobo has suffered from roof leaks and other problems, and other cities have leapfrogged ahead of Detroit in the amount of showroom space offered and other amenities.

A bond sale enabled by the Cobo authority will pay for the renovations.

Auto
5:52 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Snowstorms didn't dampen February sales - especially for GM

General Motors' auto sales rose by 46 percent in February
Spacing Magazine Flickr

Snowstorms in February didn’t seem to dampen car sales.  Sales were up 32-percent at Nissan, 42-percent at Toyota, and 46-percent at GM.

GM’s gain is for several reasons. Last February GM’s sales were weak, so this February looks much better in comparison. The company increased incentives in February. And it’s easier for GM customers to get financing now that GM has its own finance arm, GM Financial.

Don Johnson is head of GM’s U.S. sales.

"With their entry into the market, our penetration of the sub-prime business is above the industry average," says Johnson.  "We’ve also got GM Financial growing their prime lease business."

February sales were up 13-percent at Chrysler and 14-percent at Ford.

Auto/Economy
4:37 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Consumer Reports calls Chevy Volt a "tough sell"

Consumer Reports says the Volt doesn't make sense for the price.
user mariodo creative commons

In its April auto issue, the magazine Consumer Reports calls the Chevy Volt is a "tough sell."

It's not the kind of review GM has been accustomed to after the car was released with much fanfare.

The Volt was named "Car of the Year" at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Detroit News says that harsh review from Consumer Reports questions whether the car makes "economic sense."

David Champion, the senior director of Consumer Report auto testing center said:

"When you are looking at purely dollars and cents, it doesn't really make a lot of sense. The Volt isn't particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and it's not particularly good as a gas vehicle either in terms of fuel economy. This is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer."

The car costs around $40,000, but with a government tax credit (a credit some lawmakers want to turn into a rebate) the cost comes down to around $33,500.

The criticism came from the car's range in cold weather. The Volt's electric motor range is 40 miles under normal driving conditions, but that range dropped significantly when Consumer Reports tested the car in Connecticut this winter - the range dropped to 25 to 27 miles on electric power alone.

A GM spokesman said his range was better in cold weather. Again, from the Detroit News article:

GM spokesman Greg Martin noted that it's been an extremely harsh winter — and as a Volt driver he said he's getting 29-33 miles on electric range. But he noted that in more moderate recent weather, the range jumped to 40 miles on electric range or higher.

Other criticisms of the Volt were its 5-hour charging time, and a heating system that leaves your hands and feet cold.

The magazine gave the Volt praise for its acceleration and for its "taut yet supple ride."

USA Today reports that in the April auto issue, Consumer Reports gives foreign automakers Honda and Subaru top honors with Ford positing the "largest gain" in rankings overall.

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Economy
5:46 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Engineers in Grand Rapids will design control systems for new U.S. Air Force tank fleet

Boeing NewGen Tanker refuels the Boeing family of 737-based air battle management systems. (Boeing photo illustration)
Boeing

The Air Force announced last week it picked Boeing over rival Airbus to build 179 new planes that refuel other planes while flying. GE Aviation Systems in Grand Rapids will design and build computerized mission control systems for the planes – known as tankers.

GE Aviation Systems General Manager George Kiefer says the contract is a great opportunity for engineers at his company.

“Typically, you’ll end up with – during your career – two or three or four new aircraft programs like this, if you’re lucky.”

Kiefer says the Grand Rapids location will be able to maintain 100 engineering positions thanks to the contract. Over time he says the company will create another 50 jobs. Those new jobs will be spread amongst the group’s facilities in Grand Rapids, Florida and the United Kingdom.

Auto
3:41 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

High-tech rearview mirror maker watching federal regulations that could boost bottom-line

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is considering federal regulations that would require all new vehicles to have back-up camera displays by 2014. Gentex’s rear-view mirror display is one option for automakers.
Gentex Corporation

When you think high-tech you probably don’t think about car mirrors. But now you can use your car rearview mirror to open your garage door, see how cold it is outside and call your mom. One of the nation’s leading car mirror manufacturers is Zeeland-Michigan-based Gentex Corporation. New federal safety regulations set to be finalized soon would significantly boost the company’s business.

Gentex designs and builds rearview mirrors with embedded video display; sort of like a TV with picture in picture. The built in screen displays the picture from a tiny camera mounted on the back of a vehicle.  

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Auto/Economy
10:49 am
Mon February 28, 2011

Snowstorms didn't dampen February car sales

It's not unusual for a big snowstorm to hurt business at new car dealerships.

But it appears that February car sales in the U.S. improved over the same month a year ago, even though much of the country experienced more than one big snowstorm.                           

Car sales could be up 19% as a fair number of people trudged through snow-covered lots to buy a car.  That could be a sign that the pent-up demand that built up over the recession is now being released at a steady pace. 

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Crime
5:18 pm
Fri February 25, 2011

Michigan-based company's security training leads to arrest of terror suspect

Security training at Con-Way Freight helped employees spot a shipment of chemicals that led to the arrest of a man suspected in a terror plot.
infotruck.blogspot.com

A Michigan-based company is being credited for detecting a shipment of chemicals thought to be part of a terrorist plan to blow up U.S. targets.

Con-way Freight of Ann Arbor has a Homeland Security program in which employees are trained to spot suspicious shipments.

That program paid off this week when a worker found a package of a chemical called phenol being shipped to Lubbock, Texas.

Con-way managers notified the FBI and a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia was arrested.

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Economy
3:15 pm
Fri February 25, 2011

Great Lakes generate more than 1.5 million jobs, study finds

More than 500,000 Michigan jobs are directedly related to the Great Lakes.
merchantmarinejobs.org

The Great Lakes have a bigger impact on Michigan’s economy than many people  may realize.

The Michigan Sea Grant says more than a million and a half jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes.

Those jobs generate more than $62 billion in wages every year.

"This is the second time we've done this analysis," says Jennifer Read of Michigan Sea Grant. "And it's always surprising -- to me, at least --  the extent of the jobs that are directly related to the Great Lakes, across multiple sectors.  It's just a huge impact.

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Commentary
12:18 pm
Fri February 25, 2011

General Motors Wins a Star

Two years ago, when President Obama decided to spend billions to prop up General Motors, and then to guide it  through a cushioned, “soft landing” bankruptcy, there were a lot of doubters. Many thought nature should have been allowed to take its course, and that the once-mighty General should have been allowed to die.

At the time, a commentator on NBC News said “As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.”

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Economy
10:39 am
Fri February 25, 2011

Gas prices & Michigan retailers

Rising gasoline prices threaten to take some of the optimism out of a rosy new forecast for retail sales in Michigan.  A recent survey of Michigan retailers finds 76% expect to see their sales improve this spring. 

  Good holiday sales are lifting many business owners expectations for the year ahead. 

Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retail Association. Scott says the survey was taken before gasoline prices spiked this week.   He says high gas prices could be a problem for retailers.

 “But the bigger concern, more than just their own delivery trucks, is generally the effect on consumers.  And of course, every dollar a consumer puts in his or her gas tank is a dollar that can’t be spent at the store.”

Scott says a few years ago when gas prices reached four dollars a gallon, retail sales dried up.  But he says pent up consumer demand may keep the customers coming, even with high gas prices.

Economy
3:19 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Consumers Energy asks for energy surcharge reduction

Consumers Energy says it produces about five percent of its power from Michigan-based renewable projects.
newsmagazineblog.com

In 2008, Michigan enacted a new energy law. It requires power companies to produce 10 percent of their power from Michigan-based renewable sources by the year 2015.

Now Consumers Energy is asking state regulators for permission to reduce customers’ bills by about $55 million.

Consumers spokesman Dan Bishop says the company is on track to reach that goal, with about five percent of its power now coming from renewable sources.

And that’s why Consumers says it wants to put a little bit of money back into its customers’ pockets.

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Economy
11:58 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Pure Michigan funding bill on the way to governor's desk

Thinking of summer days along the Lake Michigan shoreline
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A bill that would fund the Pure Michigan ad campaign for the entire year will soon be on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The Legislature has approved the additional dollars to keep the campaign on airwaves through the busy tourism months. 

Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen says the funding had to be approved this week before ad-buy costs go up. 

"It was more important that we got it done right now because every day that we delay this means that we’re going to have that less of a chance to buy the ads that we need. We can buy more now than we can in a week, so it was just so important to get it done.”  

The state will tap a venture capital fund to pay for the ads for the balance of this year. Hansen says lawmakers still need to find a permanent funding source for the Pure Michigan ad campaign. But he does not think they will deal with that issue until next year.

Auto/Economy
11:56 am
Thu February 24, 2011

More big recalls for Toyota

The 2006 Lexus GS 300 is part of the latest Toyota recall
IFCAR wikimedia commons

If you own a Toyota or a Lexus, your floor mat or the floor carpet could inadvertently help you put the pedal to the metal.

Toyota has announced two recalls and has amended it's 2009 "Potential Floor Mat Interference Recall."

Altogether, more than 2 million vehicles are involved.

The company says the recalls are "voluntary," but the federal government says it requested that Toyota recall these additional vehicles after their investigation into Toyota's unintended acceleration problems.

From USA Today:

This should be the end of it, according to NHTSA administrator David Strickland. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed more than 400,000 pages of Toyota documents to determine whether the scope of its recalls for pedal entrapment was sufficient. As a result of the agency's review, NHTSA asked Toyota to recall these additional vehicles, and now that the company has done so, our investigation is closed."

Here are the cars involved in the recalls and amended recalls:

  • Lexus GS 300 - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus GS 350 All-Wheel Drive - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus  RX 330 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 350 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 400h - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Highlander - model year 2004 through 2006
  • Highlander HV- model year 2004 through 2006
  • 4Runners - model year 2003 through 2009
  • Lexus LX 570 - model year 2008 through 2011
  • RAV4 - model year 2006 through 2010

You can also check to see whether your car is recalled by entering your Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN on Toyota's website.

The company says Toyota and Lexus dealers will implement the new and amended recalls at no charge to the vehicle owners.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is following this story and will have an update later today.

Economy
10:46 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Why don't YOU fix the state's budget woes?

The Center for Michigan wants you to play their game.
Image from the Center for Michigan's website

Try your hand at fixing the state's budget problems.

The Center for Michigan has released an interactive state budget calculator - YOU Fix the Budget.

The idea is similar to the New York Times interactive budget calculator for the federal government.

You can start by adding $1.2 billion to the state's budget woes by cutting business taxes, or you can leave business taxes alone and deal with the current budget hole the Center estimates at $1.4 billion.

Once you start, your options are to cut, cut, cut (cuts to education, cuts general government, cuts to prison and police, cuts to the public workforce, and cuts to welfare and health care) - or - you could raise taxes.

So far, of the 300 or so people who have participated - raising the Beer Tax is the most popular option.

Read more
Economy
9:48 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Consumers Energy posts profit in 2010

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Consumers Energy has been busy this week reconnecting tens of thousands of customers who lost power during last Sunday's ice & snow storm.  So it could be argued the utility was due some good news.  Today CMS Energy announced the Jackson-based utility profits increased last year.   

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Economy
9:06 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Sales of foreclosed homes slowed in 2010 in Michigan

Fewer homebuyers were interested in buying a previously foreclosed home in Michigan last year. The result is an increasingly high number of bank-owned homes just sitting on the real estate market.  

Just under 41 thousand formerly foreclosed homes sold last year in Michigan.  That’s down by a third compared to 2009 and 2008.  The prices paid for those homes also dropped.

Read more
Auto/Economy
9:01 am
Thu February 24, 2011

GM has a very good year

GM's Headquarters in downtown Detroit. The newly formed company made $4.7 billion in profits last year.
user paul (dex) Flickr

General Motors says it earned $510 million in the fourth quarter and $4.7 billion last year as it continued an impressive comeback from bankruptcy.

It was the company's first profitable year since 2004 and GM's best performance since making $6 billion in 1999 during the pickup truck and SUV boom.

GM says fourth-quarter net income was fueled by strong sales in China and the U.S. as the global auto market began to recover. GM says net income per share was 31 cents, including $400 million in charges mainly for preferred stock dividends and for buying preferred stock from the U.S. government.

The quarterly profit was less than the two previous quarters. GM says expenses were higher because it launched two new vehicles. Revenue for the quarter was $36.9 billion.

budgets
4:02 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Grand Rapids city, schools, search for new ways to save money

Eric DeLong says teaming up to purchase office supplies could save both entities money, "We both use a whole lot of paper."
pawpaw67 Creative Commons

Grand Rapids city and school district officials have met regularly for more than a decade to come up with ways to share services and facilities to benefit one another. Now, state budget concerns are pressuring them to look even harder for those cost-saving solutions.

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Economy
3:13 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Some Blue Cross rates to rise; hikes not as steep as requested

The Michigan Attorney General's office negotiated lower price hikes for individual policy holders.
echealthinsurance.com

Some Michiganders who buy their own health insurance will pay more for their policies beginning in May.

But the price hikes aren’t as steep as they could have been.

Blue Cross Blue Shield had planned premium increases of as much as 21 percent.

But the Michigan Attorney General intervened.

“Through negotiations we were able to slash that in most cases by about 60 percent, so the increases ended up being about 60 million dollars smaller just in the first year alone,” says John Selleck, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Auto/Economy
2:14 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

GM expected to announce $5 billion profit for 2010

A view from the General Motors headquaters in Detroit.
user santoshkrishnan creative commons

General Motors is expected to formally announce its first ‘full-year profit’ since 2004 on Thursday. It was just two years ago General Motors had to seek bankruptcy protection.    Now, the automaker is expected to announce a 5 billion dollar profit for 2010.

Aaron Bragman is an automotive analyst with IHS Global Insight.  He gives a big part of the credit to the federal government for helping GM through bankruptcy. 

“I don’t think we’d be in the place where we’re at right now if the government had not intervened and actually funded their bankruptcy.  We’d be in a very different place.”

 Bragman says 2011 might be another good year for GM, because of rising gasoline prices. 

 “Chevy is bringing several small vehicles to market.  The new Spark is on the horizon.  The new (Sonic) is coming this year.   So we’re actually seeing a lot of these small cars coming…and now we’re seeing a market force that may actually drive people to go an buy them.”

Bragman says high gasoline prices may hurt Chrysler, because it doesn’t have as many high- mileage vehicles to offer car buyers.

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