Toolshed4 / Flickr

Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 365,000 F-150 pickup trucks in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The problem is faulty door handles that could lead to the doors flying open in a crash.

The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Most of the recalled trucks were made in the 2009 and 2010 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says a spring in the interior door handle can break, which means the door may not latch properly. So the door could potentially fling open if the truck is hit on the side.

Ford says there have been no crashes or injuries tied to the problem. Ford is also dealing with a large and expensive recall of nearly 600-000 older model Windstar minivans. That one is for corrosion in the axles that could cause the axles to break.

Auto workers get bonus checks

Feb 3, 2011
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr

Detroit automakers are preparing to send bonuses to workers around the region. Even some temporary workers will get a share of growing profits.
Terri Houldieson is technically a temp worker, or a "long-term supplemental employee." But she’ll still get a piece of Ford’s $6.6 billion profit from last year.

Workers like Houldieson should receive, on average, about $2,000 each compared to the $5,000 for regular employees.

"We’ve all put work in and it just shows that they respect us too. Kind of like a pat on the back," says Houldieson.

Ford employs a couple thousand long term temps and most work at assembly plants in Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Houldieson said she’ll buy some new clothes for her two boys, and maybe some expensive shoes to protect her feet during those long hours at the plant.

user citizenofthedeep / Flickr

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton met with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce this morning during its "Legislative Connection Series" (tickets for the event went for $25 to $50).

The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that Upton talked about the future of energy in the country.

According to the report, Upton said gas prices might hit $4 a gallon by Memorial Day because of political instability and a moratorium on new off-shore drilling.

Higher gas prices, said Upton, will lead to more people buying up plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric cars. Something Upton feels the power grid is not ready for. From the article:

"We're going to need 30 to 40 percent more electricity by the end of the next decade, and we're not prepared," said Upton, Republican of St. Joseph.

Upton said he favors the development of more nuclear power plants and is going to look into why it takes so long to build a nuclear power plant in this country.

Tooshed4 / Flickr

Ford Motor Company announced this morning that it had its best annual performance in more than a decade. Ford earned $6.6 billion last year as sales jumped by 20 percent. Revenues rose 3 percent to almost $121 billion.

UPDATED:  11:40 a.m.  Ford CEO Alan Mulally says salaried and hourly workers will share in the good news in the form of profit-sharing checks.  Hourly workers will get average payments of $5,000.

"To be able to share the wonderful work, the wonderful success of this, with everybody's that's worked on quality, on fuel efficiency, on safety -- it's a tremendous day for all of us," says Mulally.

Ford made $7.2 billion dollars in 1999, but it sold nearly twice the number of vehicles to get that result compared to 2010.  Mulally says the company is benefiting from what he calls a "home improvement loan" of $23-billion, taken out in 2006, that financed the company's effort to slash operating costs and improve quality.

"You think about back then (1999) and now, this is a complete transformation of Ford," he says.

Mulally says the biggest challenge this year is not specifically a Ford problem.  He says the U.S. needs to exercise sound fiscal policy so the economy continues to recover.

Ford Motor Company is forecasting higher profits in 2011 than 2010. 

The company's stock dropped Friday morning, however, as investors reacted to Ford's fourth quarter results.  The company's profits were lower than expected because of costs associated with restructuring some debt.

Mulally says the company has made swift progress in paying off that "home improvement loan."  Debt was reduced 43% in 2010.

A Michigan Congressman says U.S. automakers need more help to sell large numbers of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The Obama administration has set a goal of one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.

There’s already a federal tax credit of $7,500 to help defray the cost of buying a hybrid or electric car.   But there’s a cap on how many of the credits are available to each automaker. 

user santoshkrishnan / wikimedia commons

The new GM has been turning a corner of late. It posted three profitable quarters last year:

  • $865 million in the first quarter
  • $1.6 billion in the second quarter
  • $2.1 billion in the third quarter

(still waiting on fourth quarter numbers)

Now, in another sign of financial health, the auto company says it will no longer seek government loans to help it modernize factories:

From the Associated Press:

Chicago Auto Show organizers like Detroit's trend

Jan 25, 2011
Chicago Auto Show

For the second year in a row, attendance at the North American International Auto Show increased.

It's not just good news for Detroit. It could also be good news for Chicago.

The 2011 Chicago Auto Show kicks off in two weeks.

Its organizers say they’re encouraged by the figures out of Detroit where 735,000 people attended this year’s show.

That’s about 20,000 more than last year.

It's not a huge increase, but it is a change from years of steady decline.
Paul Brian works with the Chicago Auto Show, which attracts a lot more people than the Detroit Auto Show. Brian says regional rivalries aside

"It's kind of like whether you’re Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines - everybody’s playing on the same team. If it’s good for the Detroit show, it’s good for Chicago, and New York, and LA, and it’s good for the industry."

After all, buzz is buzz.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update 11:30 a.m.:

Steve Carmody called in with this update from the news conference:

GM announced that it will add 750 jobs to its Flint Assembly Plant by adding a third shift. No new hires will be made. The pool of workers will come from two places:

  1. people being reactivated from various layoff pools
  2. workers who would like to return to Flint after they were transferred to another plant

10:21 a.m.:

GM is planning a news conference at 10:30am this morning.

More signs that China's economy is growing.

The Associated Press reports:

General Motors says it sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S. for the first time in its 102-year history.

The company sold 2.35 million vehicles in China. That's about 136,000 more than it sold in the U.S.

The AP report says GM sold 2.35 million vehicles in China - 136,000 more vehicles than it sold in the U.S. in 2010.

The country's population is 4 times bigger than the U.S. population (according to World Bank numbers):

  • China's population: 1,331,460,000
  • U.S. population: 307,006,550

With the New Year, Michigan Radio began a new series called, "What's Working." Every week, we'll take a look at an idea that's helping to improve the state's economy and our lives.

Today, we hear from Joe Faris, founder of Motor City Denim. When the auto industry downsized, auto suppliers were affected. Many of them lost business, got rid of employees, or even went into bankruptcy. What’s left are the suppliers' factories, and a highly-skilled workforce. Faris is working to mold the infrastructure of former, or smaller, auto suppliers into one that can support a fashion industry. Motor City Denim is now a subsidiary of TD Industrial Coverings. TD Industrial Coverings used to only manufacture protective coverings for the robots used to assemble cars. Now, TD industrial is getting ready to also make jeans.

You can listen to the interview here:

Roger Hart / Auto Week

Editors at Auto Week perused the offerings at the 2011 North American International Auto Show and named their top picks.

Executive Editor of Auto Week, Roger Hart, said the show had more than two dozen new models on display, and most had one thing in common:

 "There were no fancy, pie-in-the-sky, dreamlike concept cars. Nearly everything billed as a concept looked as if you could buy one tomorrow at your local dealership and drive it home."

Here are their picks:

BEST IN SHOW: Porsche 918 RSR Concept

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

At the Detroit International Auto Show, domestic automakers are celebrating a comeback of their industry. GM and Ford both saw profits last year, and the car makers are expecting a good year this year.

As more proof of the comeback, Bill Vlasic and Nick Bunkley report in the New York Times about profit-sharing checks that are expected to go to GM and Ford workers:

The two big Detroit carmakers will announce profit-sharing checks this month for their hourly workers, perhaps the largest in a decade, company officials and industry analysts say.

The checks are expected to top out at $5,000 at Ford, less at GM.

They report these checks "would be the biggest payout since the $8,000 checks that Ford handed out in 2000." Chrysler, the report says, is not expected to issue bonus checks this year.

General Motors

For people who follow the car business, the big news coming from the North American International Auto Show on Monday was no surprise.    

Still, GM employees enthusiastically cheered and applauded the announcement.

The Volt is GM’s extended range electric car.  GM has big plans riding on the electric car’s small frame.  In fact, the Volt is more than a car for GM. It’s an entire strategy.

Ford Motor Company

Not to be outdone by GM and Nissan, Ford Motor Company says it is delivering on a promise to make more small, fuel-efficient cars for consumers.

At the North American International Auto Show today, the company is showcasing 10 new "C-segment" cars. The company says the vehicles are "fuel efficient smaller cars that people really want."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody was up early this morning taking some pictures at the auto show. You can scroll through them above, or check out this little video below:

The 'press preview' of the auto show is taking place today and tomorrow.  The show opens to the public on Saturday, January 15th.

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:

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.

The Fiat Multipla
user corvettec6r / Wikimedia Commons

The auto analysts have weighed in and the car that tops the list (all together now)... The Pontiac Aztek!

Former Car & Driver editor Csaba Csere says of the Aztec:

If you have ever heard that saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Aztek is the application of that concept to a car.

The Pontiac Aztek
IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons

We asked our Facebook friends to give us their picks for ugliest car of the past decade.

As Tanya M. says, "clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

That's true Tanya... except when it comes to the Pontiac Aztek (sorry Elizabeth C.!).

If our Facebook friends were stranded on a desert island with twelve strangers, and they were the last ones standing, clearly they would not appreciate being given an Aztek as a tribute to their survival skills.

One one expert calls it "the biggest auto verdict in the state this year."

Danielle Salisbury of the Jackson Citizen Patriot reports a jury awarded James Fairly and his wife Kimberley Fairley $3.5 million in pain and suffering as a result of traffic accident Mr. Fairly was in.

Colorful used cars
Zelda Richardson

Perhaps another sign that the 'Great Recession' is thawing. Lending to people with a so-so credit score is on the uptick - at least in the car market.

The Associated Press reports "the percentage of loans going to subprime buyers rose 8% in the third quarter, their first year-over-year increase since 2007, according to a report issued Tuesday by Experian, a credit reporting agency."

Inside Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant
Barack Obama's Flickr photostream

Update: 3:20pm:

The Detroit Free Press reports on what we expected from the announcement at Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant.

Chrysler will add a second shift in early 2011 of about 900 additional workers. Many of those workers will be workers who are called back from temporary layoff.

Willow Run Factory and B-24 bombers.
U.S. Army Signal Corps

It was ground zero for the "arsenal of democracy" in the 1940s. Henry Ford built the giant Willow Run factory to manufacture B-24 bombers in World War II. Later GM took over the building making everything from Chevy trucks, the Caprice, the Nova, Corvairs, and transmissions.

Today, the materials inside the plant are being auctioned off as part of the "Old GM's" bankruptcy reorganization (old GM is now known as the Motors Liquidation Company).

Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
flickr user fiatontheweb / creative commons

Today executives at General Motors announced they plan to add 1,000 jobs in Michigan.

Now, Chrysler executives have announced they also plan to add 1,000 jobs.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Old General Motors Headquaters
Historic American Buildings Survey

General Motors (GM) will be in the news a lot this week, so if you sat out the GM story up until this point, here's a quick summary to get you caught up.

Today's General Motors is not your father's General Motors. The old GM went bankrupt. The company couldn't pay its bills (they had some big ones).

But instead of letting the whole company collapse, a court stepped in to reorganize the auto giant (under chapter 11 bankruptcy).

The court split the old GM in two.

Former GM Wyoming Stamping Plant
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith covered the auction at the former GM Wyoming Stamping plant. The plant closed in June 2009 as part of GM's bankruptcy.

The auction was held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The auctioneers said they'll sell off anything leftover today.

Smith said it was easy to get lost as she took photos of the more than 2 million square foot building. Here's an audio slideshow she put together:

Closeup of Chrysler Logo
Photo by Diego HC/Creative Commons

Chrysler says it narrowed its losses in the 3rd quarter of this year. The automaker reported a net loss of $84 million from July through September. That’s less than half of its $172 million loss in the second quarter. The automaker says this was the third quarter in a row of better-than-expected financial results.

Chevy Volt's plug receptacle
Charles Manley / Michigan Radio

Senator Carl Levin wants to scrap the government's Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard. Auto manufacturers must meet these fuel economy standards for their fleets, or face penalties from the government.

The Obama Administration recently updated the standards.  By 2020, automakers will have to reach an average 35.5 mpg for their combined car and truck fleet.

Inside the Chevy Volt electric vehicle
Charles Manley / Michigan Radio

The Chevy Volt got one step closer to the showrooms this week. The electric vehicle was unveiled to the media.