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The North American International Auto Show begins this week in Detroit. It opens to the public on Saturday and runs through January 23rd. The media, however, get a preview of the show beginning today. It's the biggest annual media event in the state as thousands of journalists from around the world travel here to cover the show.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton gave us a preview:

The auto industry had two bad years in 2009 and 2010, and so did one of its biggest shows: the North American International Auto Show. Some car companies like Porsche didn't even have displays.  But, Porsche is back, and so are some of the traditional glitz and optimism.  Baron Meade, Chairman of the show, said, "I would set the stage of this show as the start of the next real Golden Age of the Automobile."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton, Sarah Hulett, Sarah Cweik and Steve Carmody will all be reporting from the show throughout the next couple of weeks.

 Toyota Motor Corporation has launched a new $50-million dollar safety research center in Ann Arbor, as the company seeks to recover from last year’s massive recalls of millions of cars. 


The money will pay for research on ways to reduce driver distraction, and better protect the most vulnerable passengers including children.  Chuck Gulash is senior executive engineer at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor. 

Graph courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Michigan and several other states have had to borrow money from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits. And now, the federal government wants states to repay.

Unemployment benefits are funded by Michigan businesses through a payroll tax.  When the recession caused the state’s unemployment rate to skyrocket (as high as 15% at one point), the state had to borrow more than $3.8 billion to pay jobless benefits.

user mariodo / wikimedia commons

The winner of the coveted North American Car and Truck of the Year Award will be announced Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show.

The awards are unique in the United States because -- instead of being given by a single media outlet -- they are awarded by a coalition of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and web sites. 

The finalists for North American Car of the Year are:

flickr - photodu.de

The Grand Rapids Press reports that AT&T plans to cut 110 union jobs in West Michigan. The paper reports:

The West Michigan job losses are part of a total of 371 jobs being eliminated by the telecommunications giant in Michigan, said Ryan Letts, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 4034.

Letts is quoted as saying they saw the job cuts coming because the telecommunications industry is changing:

CES

Automakers are getting ready for the big auto show in Detroit next week, but before they land there, many leaders in the auto industry are attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The show started today and will run through the 9th. Organizers says it's "the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow."

CNBC's Phil LeBeau says the show used to attract little attention from the auto industry, but that's changed since more electronic gadgets are finding their way into new cars and trucks.

LeBeau says the car makers are seeking new ways to increase their profits:

In car entertainment and connectivity, systems like Sync are increasingly must have add-ons for car buyers. And they have no problem paying for them. These systems drive higher transaction prices and greater profit margins.

Ford Motor Company President and CEO, Allan Mulally, will give a keynote address to the conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. CES Conference organizers say "Ford constantly innovates and launches new technologies, like SYNC with speech recognition, that make the driving experience safer through technology."

The Secretary of Defense says he wants to cancel a defense contract that would eliminate hundreds of potential new jobs in Michigan. 

The contract would be for an amphibious vehicle for the U.S. Marine Corps. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was intended to replace a Vietnam era model. A Sterling Heights based division of General Dynamics is the contractor that has been developing the 40 ton vehicle.

Peter Keating is a company spokesman. He says canceling the program now will cost as much as moving forward with production. 

"We would expect our congressional delegation in Washington DC to take a look at that and in their wisdom decide if it’s something they’d like to support." 

The marine vehicle has been plagued with cost overruns and other problems since the Reagan administration.   Escalating costs prompted the U.S. Marine Corps to cut in half the number of Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles it planned to purchase. Keating insists past problems have been resolved. 

flickr - brewbooks

Sales at Borders Book stores have been slipping for several years as more buyers go to places like Amazon.com to find their titles, and as more people move into the digital reader market. Last month, the company reported that its third quarter sales were down 17.6% from the same period a year ago.

So the company is struggling to find a way to pay its bills. One way it's trying to preserve cash is to suspend its payments to publishers.

Another survey, another big improvement for Ford Motor Company.

Consumer Reports says its subscribers ranked Ford second only to Toyota as the best brand this year.  It’s a notable reversal of fortunes for both companies.

According to Consumers Reports, subscribing car owners perceive the Ford brand as nearly equal to the Toyota brand, and on the key factors of safety, quality and value, they rank Ford better than Toyota.  

Ford also was rated best non-luxury brand in a recent J.D. Power survey on initial quality. 

"This was long-term planning that is now paying off," says Jesse Toprak, an analyst with TrueCar.com.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A Borders bookstore in Farmington Hills is set to close Friday, Jan. 7.

Borders Books is starting the New Year by closing the Farmington Hills store and at least 16 other stores nationwide. A Borders spokesperson says more closures could be announced in March.

The Farmington Hills store is plastered with bright yellow "Going Out of Business" banners. Books are up to 80% off, and everything has to go in the next two days.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Public Citizen / Flickr

Representative Nancy Pelosi, outgoing Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, will visit the North American International Auto Show next week in Detroit.

The Democratic Representative from California says she will visit the show on Monday, which is the first day of previews for the media.  The show opens to the public on January 15th and runs through January 23rd at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

As the Associated Press reports:

Pelosi says a string manufacturing base is vital to the nation's security and competitiveness. She says Detroit's automakers are central to efforts to grow a "clean, green economy."

The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan Democratic Representative John Dingell invited Pelosi to the show.

Texting while driving
C. Todd Lopez / Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

The city of Troy, Michigan has taken the state’s “no texting while driving” law a bit further, making it illegal to talk on the phone while driving, among other things.

The city's distracted driving ordinance went into effect last July, but the city didn’t officially start to enforce it until the first week of January, 2011. According to the city's website, the following actions can cause "distracted driving":

"Such action can include but is not limited to: eating, reading, writing, performing personal hygiene/grooming, physical interaction with pets, passengers, or unsecured cargo, any of which is

done in a manner tat prohibits the driver from maintaining direct physical control of the motor vehicle steering mechanism with at least one hand that is free of all other objects and used entirely to form a controlled grip on the steering mechanism."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

President Obama is expected today to sign legislation to improve the nation’s food safety.  The new law will put more regulations on Michigan farmers. 


2010 ended with national recalls of parsley, alfalfa sprouts and cilantro because of possible salmonella contamination.  The recalls were just the latest problems that prompted Congress to revamp the nation’s food safety system. The changes include better tracking of all kinds of food, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s plate.  

General Motors' Headquarters, Detroit, MI
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Dan Akerson, Chairman and CEO of General Motors, is planning to meet Friday with members of Michigan's congressional delegation.  That's according to an official familiar with the meeting.  The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that, "it will give Akerson a chance to meet some Michigan lawmakers for the first time".

Akerson was named GM's CEO in September, 2010. GM has not yet commented on the meeting.

As the AP notes:

Michigan's 15 House members and two senators were key allies for GM as it underwent a government-led bankruptcy in 2009. The Detroit company had its initial public offering last November, reducing the government's ownership share to 33.3 percent.

December auto sales numbers are due tomorrow. It’s expected to be another good month for Detroit’s automakers. 

After watching auto sales dwindle in the depths of the recession, auto companies have seen a surge in buying demand in recent months.  December is expected to be the third straight month of strong domestic auto sales.

Grocery cart
user mytvdinner / Flickr

Michigan residents who rely on food stamps will see some changes beginning in January.

Michigan's 1.9 million food stamp recipients get their benefits in lump sum at the beginning of the month. Most food stamp purchases are made at that time, which can lead to long lines at the checkout counter and a shortage of fresh produce at some stores.

"We know that we’re going to be busier those days, so we typically have more staff in the store," says Joe Gappy, manager at Gigante Prince Valley Supermercado in southwest Detroit.

Beginning January 4th, Michigan will spread its food stamp distributions throughout the month. That means some recipients will receive their lump sum benefits on the 5th of the month, for example, others on the 19th.  Click here to see a chart detailing date changes for food assistance benefits.

Grand Rapids skyline
John Eisenschenk / Creative Commons

One of the biggest office buildings in Grand Rapids is listed for sale at a public foreclosure auction next month. The 17-story sleek blue-glass Bridgewater Place dramatically changed the city’s skyline when it was built in the early 90s. Many people refer to the building as the Varnum building, because of the law firms’ prominent logo near the top floor. Varnun rents the tops 6 floors.

Attic insulation
Ryan McFarland / Flickr

Michigan businesses that make and install residential furnaces, windows and other energy-related products are getting a burst of last-minute jobs before the year ends.


Tony Ianni is a sales manager for WeatherGard, which installs windows, roofs and insulation – all of which qualify for a federal tax credit for energy efficiency:



"It’s definitely been a big push, everybody’s calling and the first question out of their mouths is, 'Can we still get the tax credit?'” 


Ianni says informing customers about the credit has been a big push for his industry. "Of course all your last-minute people are coming through now, trying to get everything done," he said. 


The tax credit also applies to hot water heaters, furnaces and stoves that burn wood or pellets. It’s good for 30 percent of the cost of the project, up to 15-hundred dollars.

Michigan home prices keep falling
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s home prices are expected to tumble again next year.


 But, some parts of the state might see a slight increase in price.


 Home sale prices in Michigan rocked up and down this year. Government incentives helped boost prices in the first half of the year. When those incentives expired, prices dropped.


Alex Villacorta is with Clear Capitol. He says home prices in Michigan should get a boost in the Spring, but then should fall at the end of the year. 

The Salvation Army
Evan P. Cordes / Creative Commons

The signature red kettles may be packed away, but the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign is still underway.

Money from the kettles supports the Salvation Army’s programs; helping victims of disasters, low-income seniors, and running summer camps for kids.

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