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2:45 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Former Ford Chairman and CEO Harold "Red" Poling dies at 86

Harold "Red" Poling, former Ford Motor Company Chairman and CEO.
Ford

Harold A. Poling, a former Ford Motor Company chairman and CEO who was credited for reviving the company in the 1980s, died at age 86. The Detroit Free Press reports Poling passed away on May 12 in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Ford Motor Company released this statement after the news of Poling's death.

“Red Poling was an extraordinary leader who had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company and everyone who worked with him.  With a list of accomplishments that span 43 years, including leading the company through a remarkable turnaround during the 1980s and 1990s, Red was respected by all for his leadership, his passion for being the low-cost producer and  his genuine affinity for people.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

The Detroit News reports Poling made difficult decisions in the 1980s, including decisions that led to plant closures and layoffs, that returned the company to profitability.

But earlier than most American car executives, he studied Japanese practices such as just-in-time parts delivery.

"I took some very harsh actions back then," he told The Detroit News in 1993. "Ford was losing large sums of money, and there were no road maps for turning a company around. So it was all up to me."

Poling focused on quality. During the 1980s, Ford was counting on the new Escort to shore up sagging sales. But Poling delayed the introduction of an automatic transmission for the car until quality problems had been solved.

He also delayed the introduction of the Taurus by nine months until quality issues had been resolved.

The Detroit Free Press reports when Poling retired in 1994 "the company was preparing to launch a new Mustang, introduce its first minivan with the Windstar and sell the tiny Aspire subcompact car," and that he was part of a management team that "approved $3 billion to develop the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable." 

As a child, Poling said he spent a lot of time with his father who was a mechanic. “We’d grind valves, change piston rings and clutches and do lots of other jobs. It was serious work but to me it was interesting.”

One of four children, he enlisted in the Navy and then went to graduate from Monmouth College before receiving his MBA from Indiana University.

The Freep reports Poling's "all-time favorite car was the 1932 Ford Model A, the first car he bought, used, but in good shape."

Auto/Economy
11:26 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Auto parts maker to buy plant in Saline, Michigan, employ 500 people

The Saline, Michigan parts plant acquired by Faurecia.

A French auto parts maker says it plans to buy a parts plant in Saline, Michigan. Faurecia SA says the interior components plant will be part of a joint venture.

From the Associated Press:

Faurecia and Rush Group announced Thursday that they're creating Detroit Manufacturing Systems, a joint venture to build and automotive interior components in Detroit.

The companies say the venture expects to employ about 500 people in Detroit within the next three years and will make parts at first for Ford Motor Co.

Here's more from a Faurencia SA press release:

Faurecia will acquire the Saline business, which generates $1.1 billion annual sales supplying cockpit modules, instrument panels, door panels and center consoles for 12 vehicle programs assembled at eight Ford plants throughout North America. With this acquisition, Faurecia’s objective is to create a new operation that is optimized for efficient production, in line with the Faurecia Excellence System.

In conjunction with the Saline acquisition, Faurecia will enter into a new joint venture with Rush Group Ltd., one of the Rush Group of companies that together comprise one of the largest Native American and woman-owned businesses in North America. The joint venture, called Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS), will do injection molding, assembly and sequencing of interior trim components from a new facility in Detroit. Rush Group will hold the majority of the capital and the management of DMS, while Faurecia – with 45% of the capital – will bring its technology and manufacturing expertise to the joint-venture. As a result, the Saline plant will focus in the future on core technologies such as injection molding, skin manufacturing and foaming operations with annual revenues of nearly $400 million.

Auto/Economy
11:23 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Chrysler begins producing the Dodge Dart this week

Chrysler unveiled the Dodge Dart at the North American International Auto Show earlier this year.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The Dart will help make Chrysler a full-line auto company once again. It's a compact car, or so-called "C-segment," car.

It's the first vehicle to combine a U.S. design with a Fiat chassis or platform.  The last small car Chrysler made was the Dodge Caliber and that was not very successful.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks the Dart will do much better.

"We are looking forward to a successful launch of a C-segment sedan, which is a piece of the market that we've been absent from for a long period of time, so we're expecting great volumes in terms of the Dart for the remainder of the year," said Marchionne.

A version of the Dart that gets 41 miles per gallon is expected later this year.

Auto/Economy
10:33 am
Thu April 19, 2012

U.S. auto production might struggle to meet demand

A Ford assembly plant.
Ford Motor Company

U.S. auto companies are faced with pent up demand from consumers at a time when their supplies for parts and materials are getting squeezed.

The Associated Press reports the shortages could limit the number of vehicles companies can sell, and squeeze a historic turnaround for the U.S. auto industry.

The most immediate problem — a shortage of a crucial plastic resin, caused by an explosion March 31 at a plant in Germany — could surface in a few weeks. And later this year or beyond, automakers could be confronted with an even bigger crisis, running short of parts simply because there aren't enough factories and people to make them.

The AP points out that the new process for manufacturing makes automakers vulnerable to these kinds of disruptions because auto suppliers don't stockpile parts the way they used to.

Instead, to hold down warehouse and inventory costs, they rely on a "just in time" system in which parts are delivered just days or hours ahead of when they are needed.

Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

Government proposes throttle override system in cars

The government wants make brake-throttle override systems more common in vehicles.
Chrystal Foxx wikimedia commons

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal regulators are proposing cars be required to have throttle override systems to prevent runaway acceleration in instances where the driver steps on the gas pedal and brake at the same time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it's proposing changing safety standards to require brake-throttle override systems in all vehicle models regardless of size, including trucks and buses. The systems automatically brake while overriding the accelerator when both are pressed.

Many car models already come equipped with such systems.

The proposal is an outgrowth of investigations two years ago into claims that mechanical defects had caused unintended acceleration in some Toyota models. Government studies rejected those claims, but the probe uncovered several cases of drivers inadvertently pressing the brake and gas pedal at the same time.

Changing Gears
10:33 am
Wed April 4, 2012

Measuring the costs and benefits of retraining

Todd Debenedet is starting over. He's retraining in Jackson, Michigan.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Measuring the success of retraining programs used to be straightforward. You just looked at how many people got better paying jobs. Now the emphasis is shifting from how job seekers benefit to how taxpayers benefit too. That’s because some federal funds for workforce development are shrinking, and local agencies have to do more to make their case.

In the Midwest, we hear a lot about retraining. A lot of the money for retraining and other job services comes from the federal government, through the states, to local programs like this one in Jackson, Michigan.

Read more
News Roundup
8:29 am
Wed April 4, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

user brother_o'mara Flickr

With EM decision fast approaching, Detroit City Council will meet again tonight

Instead of voting on a proposed financial stability agreement with the state, Detroit City Council members spent much of Tuesday discussing several court challenges that could derail any agreement. They eventually adjourned without a vote on the agreement despite warnings that tabling a vote could lead to an emergency manager appointment by Gov. Snyder. Snyder's deadline to decide on an EM appointment is tomorrow. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was at the meeting and reports council plans to meet again tonight.

Last night, Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis, who has been filling in for Mayor Bing while out on medical leave, issued this statement regarding council's discussions:

We appreciate the seriousness with which the Detroit City Council is deliberating. This is one of the most critical decisions in this City’s history. However, Mayor Bing and the administration believe Gov. Snyder will act on Thursday, April 5, according to law, regardless of any related, current legal challenges to the process.

Auto sales on pace for a strong year

It's early yet, but auto sales figures in the U.S. show automakers are on pace to make 2012 the best sales year since 2007. More from the Detroit Free Press:

New-vehicle sales ran at a 14.4 million annual rate in March, down from a four-year-high of 15.1 million in February. Still, at the pace so far, Americans would buy 14.5 million vehicles this year, up from 12.8 million in 2011. The increase equals more than six assembly plants running two shifts each.

Chrysler led all automakers in sales gains for the month of March at 34.2 percent.

Michigan's unemployment rate drops across areas of state 

Michigan's unemployment rate dropped to 8.8% last month with a slight uptick in overall employment as well.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported new data shows the decline occurred throughout the state:

Fifteen of 17 regions of Michigan recorded declines in unemployment in February, with Detroit and Monroe reporting the largest rate decreases from January to February. Flint, Holland and Jackson recorded the largest declines during the past year.

Auto/Economy
12:32 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

More jobs than job seekers, automakers seek qualified people

An electric vehicle engineer at Ford.
Ford Motor Co.

After laying-off tens of thousands of employees in 2009, automakers and engineering firms are racing to fill new positions.

Paul Eisenstein writes on The Detroit Bureau that at a recent career fair, job openings weren't in short supply - job seekers were.

Or more precisely, qualified job-seekers.

Eisenstein writes "the real rush is to find trained engineers."

two years ago, Altair Engineering...“had plenty of applications and no jobs.”  A few months ago, they put out the word that “they had 700 engineering slots and no one to fill them.”

This explanation is offered as to why there's a dearth of applicants.

Part of the problem is that the industry now needs to attract a largely new workforce at a time when engineering schools are struggling to fill slots and turn out fresh talent.

The bulk of the engineering employees released by the struggling Detroit makers over the last five years were older workers nearing the end of their careers.  They were often given buyouts that helped nudge them into a less painful retirement.  “And now...they just aren’t interested in coming back.”

And even if older engineers did apply for these jobs, one expert says their skill set might be out of date because changes in technology are happening so quickly.

This shortage of engineering talent is driving up costs for employers - bad for employers, but good for potential employees.

One group is working to change this. David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research has started "Building American's Tomorrow," a non-profit group working to attract young people to the engineering field.

Bryce Hoffman of the Detroit News writes the group is working to improve the image of engineering to young people who "have a dim view of manufacturing and the auto industry in particular."

Building America's Tomorrow grew out of the industry's efforts during the recent economic crisis to educate Washington about the economic importance of the auto sector.

"It's really an outgrowth of all the chaos in the auto industry," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of CAR and one of the founders of the organization. "Everyone was worried about whether we would survive. We did, but now we're not sure where we're going find the talent we need to stay in business."

It's a long term problem. And Cole says "if we don't do something about it, we're going to lose a core part of our economy."

Auto/Economy
10:31 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Michigan battery maker to spend $55 million replacing defective parts

A123 Systems Inc.'s battery manufacutring facility in Livonia, Michigan.
A123 Systems Inc. Facebook

A123 Systems Inc. has announced it will replace battery modules and packs that could contain defective parts made at the company's Livonia manufacturing facility.

In a press release, the company said they began making replacement modules and packs and expect to ship them to affected customers this week.

The company said the defective parts are not a safety concern.

From their press release:

"Recently, A123 has discovered that some prismatic cells made in our Livonia facility may contain a defect which can result in premature failure of a battery pack or module that includes a defective cell. We have isolated the root cause of the defective cells and we are confident that we have pinpointed the source of the defect and corrected it..." said David Vieau, CEO of A123 Systems. 

MLive.com reports:

A123 most recently made headlines for its nearly $260 million loss in 2011 and a Fisker Karma, which the company supplies the battery for, dying during testing by Consumer Reports.

Company officials say prismatic cells made at another A123 facility are not impacted, and "the cylindrical cells we make at our facilities in China for a number of other transportation programs, as well as the majority of our grid energy storage systems and commercial applications, are also not affected by this defect."

Auto
10:47 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Feds investigate Ford Tauruses for stuck throttles

2005 Ford Taurus wikimedia commons

Update: March 13, 2:35pm

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded its investigation to include some Murcury Sable models in addition to Tauruses.

The investigation now includes vehicles from the 2001-2006 model years and could affect as many as 1.9 million cars.

--------

DETROIT (AP) - Federal safety regulators are investigating complaints of throttles sticking in some Ford Tauruses.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website that 14 people have complained about the cars from the 2005 and 2006 model years, about 360,000 in all. No crashes or injuries have been reported, but the agency says a driver ran a red light and entered an intersection before the car could be stopped.

The agency says the cruise control cable may become detached and hold the throttle open. Drivers have reported that it was hard to stop the car with the brakes, and several said they had to shut off the engine or shift into neutral to stop.

Ford says it is cooperating in the probe. The cars have not been recalled.

Auto
10:10 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Ford upgrades oft-criticized MyFord Touch

Ford Motor Company

Ford is giving its touch-screen system, called MyFord Touch, a big upgrade.   The modifications will also be made to Lincoln vehicles.

The changes will be free to customers who already have the system in their cars.  Dealers will also upgrade new cars on their lots.

MyFord Touch uses a computer touchscreen to control things like the radio, IPod, cellphone, and navigation. 

Ford acknowledges the touchscreen had problems; it shut down unexpectedly, it took too long to respond to the customer’s touch, and there was too much information on the screen.  

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:55 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Plans call for demolishing Detroit's Packard plant

The Packard Plant in Detroit.
Angelique DuLong wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - A man who claims ownership of one of Detroit's most widely-known industrial ruins says he plans to demolish most or all of what remains of the sprawling facility.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News report Friday that Dominic Cristini, who claims ownership of the Packard plant through Bioresource Inc., is awaiting demolition permits. He says he wants to start demolition within a month. He estimates it will cost $6 million to raze the plant.

Cristini says portions might be saved for historical value.

The plant was built in the early 1900s. The last Packard automobile was built in the mid-1950s. Other smaller industrial businesses have used the facility since. As the years passed, the plant increasingly became the target of thieves, metal scrappers, urban explorers and graffiti artists.

Changing Gears
12:01 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

Michigan Primary raises a big question: Who gets credit for the bailout?

Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant.
Chrysler

Publicus Tacitus, the Roman senator, is given credit for coining the phrase, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”

He’d feel right at home during the Michigan Republican primary campaign.

Over the past few weeks, candidates, their opponents and those who played a role have been debating just who should get credit for the auto industry bailout.

It’s a long-overdue discussion of what happened a little over three years ago, and the conversation shows just what a political hot button the situation still is for people in Michigan and the Midwest. Here’s a list of credit takers and how they make their cases.

Read more
Changing Gears
10:21 am
Tue February 14, 2012

3 things to know about Mitt Romney’s latest Op-Ed

Mitt Romney is working to clarify his position on the auto bailouts.
Matthew Reichbach Flickr

Yesterday, we told you that Michigan’s native son, Mitt Romney, has fallen behind former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in two pre-primary polls.

Now, Romney is firing back in the Detroit News. not at his rival, but at union leaders and Obama administration officials.

Romney touches on many themes about the 2009 auto industry bailout.

You can read the entire op-ed here.

We picked out three things and provide some context.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:41 am
Thu February 2, 2012

Chrysler factory workers to get $1,500 checks

The AP reports that Chrysler workers will get bonus check next month, another sign that the once troubled automaker is turning around.
screen grab from YouTube video

DETROIT (AP) - Factory workers at Chrysler are getting $1,500 profit-sharing checks next month, a sign the automaker's turnaround is succeeding.

About 26,000 union-represented workers in the U.S. should get the payments, according to Chrysler's contract with the United Auto Workers union. The profit-sharing figure is based on an Associated Press analysis of company earnings, and the labor contract formula for profit-sharing.

Chrysler would not say how much the workers will get. But the formula in its new four-year contract with the UAW shows that the checks will be about $1,500. The checks are based on Chrysler's $2 billion operating profit for 2011, reported on Wednesday.

Chrysler reported full-year net income of $183 million, its first since 1997.

Auto/Economy
10:00 am
Mon January 30, 2012

Government steps up Jeep Liberty air bag probe

DETROIT (AP) - Federal safety regulators have stepped up their investigation into Jeep Liberty air bags after 50 people reported they were hurt when the air bags inflated without a crash happening.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started investigating Liberty SUVs from the 2002 and 2003 model years in September. It was upgraded to a full engineering analysis last week.

Documents on the agency website say Chrysler and regulators have gotten 87 complaints of air bags going off by surprise. Nearly 387,000 vehicles are under investigation.

Drivers reported burns, cuts and bruises.

Safety regulators say the air bag computer may fail due to an electrical voltage spike.

The company says no incidents have happened in vehicles made after March 19, 2003. But regulators say Chrysler can't explain that.

Changing Gears
11:53 am
Fri January 27, 2012

6 tips on "Buy Here-Pay Here" car lots

SeeMidTN.com Flickr

Yesterday, we brought you the story of Buy Here-Pay Here dealerships in the Midwest. These are places where the dealer finances car loans himself (BHPH is sometimes called in-house financing.).

Basically, he is the bank and he takes on all the risk. That’s especially true because BHPH dealers cater to people with bad credit – deep subprime customers who typically have credit scores less than 550.

It’s not hard to find people who are out of luck, out of work, and grateful for the opportunity to finance a car at all. But that opportunity comes at a steep price, which is either folded in or added on in the form of interest rates up to 25 percent.

So here are six tips to consider if you’re thinking about Buy Here-Pay Here:

Read more
Politics
2:25 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Michigan drivers could soon pay more for gas and vehicle registration fees

Drivers in Michigan may soon pay nine cents more per gallon at the gas pump.

A package of bills that would change funding for the state’s aging bridges and roads has been rolled out at the state Capitol.

It would get rid of the fuel-tax at the pump in favor of a tax at the wholesale level. That would result in drivers paying a few cents more per gallon. 

Drivers might also have pay more to register their vehicles. The package of bills also includes a plan to increase vehicle registration fees by 67 percent.

That should generate about $500 million dollars for transportation.

State Representative Rick Olson (R-Saline) said generating money to maintain roads is similar to a driver changing the oil in a car.

"Why do you do that? Because you want to save your engine," said Olson. "Same thing with roads; unless we do some of this capital preventative maintenance on a timely basis, we’re going to have more and more roads fall into the ‘poor’ category when then it costs 6 to 8 times as much to repair."

There are no plans to turn any of the state’s major highways into toll roads. But Olson said the conversation could come up in the future.

"Oh, it’s a possibility, but I don’t hear anyone pushing that at this point. Toll roads, tolls are a relatively inefficient way to collect funds for roads," said Olson. "Does create jobs, but those are government jobs, so why not then create the net revenue the most efficient way we can."

The package of bills also includes a plan to create a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan. 

Governor Rick Snyder called on lawmakers to find about $1.5 billion in additional revenue to adequately fund transportation needs.

Changing Gears
11:25 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Buy Here-Pay Here: Get a ride, don’t be taken for one

Matt Ghazal runs a Buy Here-Pay Here business in West Michigan. He's trying to change the sector's reputation.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

 

In the Midwest, it’s hard to get around without a car.

These days, people are holding onto them longer. The average vehicle is almost 11 years old and used cars prices are on the rise.

All this adds to the pressure on the bottom rung of consumers: people with bad credit.

For many, the only way to finance a car is at a Buy Here-Pay Here lot.  Here, dealers loan to deep subprime customers at interest rates up to 25%. Buy Here-Pay Here makes up more than 15% of used vehicle financing in states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. 

That financing goes to people like Willie.  That’s her nickname.

We’re driving around Toledo in her ’99 Chevy Express.  It’s got 130,000 miles on it.

Read more
Auto/Economy
11:37 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Detroit auto show closes, attendance highest since 2005

The unveiling of the new Dodge Dart at the Detroit auto show.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The Detroit auto show wrapped up yesterday, and officials say attendance was strong.

From the Associated Press:

Organizers of the North American International Auto Show say this year's attendance was the highest since 2005.

The annual event at Detroit's Cobo Center closed on Sunday.

Organizers say attendance during the public portion of the show was 770,932. That's also up from last year, when 735,370 went to the
show.

Read more

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