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General Motors

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The government is getting closer to selling all of its General Motors Co. stock.

The Treasury Department said in its August report to Congress that it sold $811 million worth of GM common stock last month.

The report dated Tuesday says the government has recovered about $35.4 billion of the $49.5 billion bailout it gave the Detroit automaker. That means taxpayers are still $14.1 billion in the hole.

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There is no small touch of irony in the fact that as Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. car makers are enjoying boom times. Sales for the Big Three in July were the highest in seven years. GM, Ford and Chrysler are adding shifts and hiring workers. Good times.

But not for the city that gave birth to what we know as the U.S. auto industry.

Tom Walsh, business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, and Sonari Glinton, National Desk Reporter from NPR who has covered transportation and the auto industry, joined us today.

August was a good month for U.S. automakers.

Nearly all automakers are reporting double-digit sales gains as August shapes up to be another strong month for the industry.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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Governor cuts trip short

Governor Rick Snyder will return early from his trip to Israel today in order to lobby for Medicaid expansion. Snyder will encourage fellow Republicans to pass the legislation. “Today is the last day for lawmakers to pass Medicaid expansion before their two-month summer break,” reports Jake Neher.

Teachers protest education legislation

Michigan teachers rallied in Lansing yesterday to protest legislation that would allow state officials to close struggling school districts.  According to the Associated Press, “the legislation lets the state superintendent and treasurer dissolve a district with 300 to 2,400 students if certain criteria are met.”

General Motors receives high ratings

For the first time ever, General Motors topped the Initial Quality Survey released by automotive tracking firm J.D. Power.  Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports that GM received a better score than any other corporation in the study.  She says "people are reporting very few mechanical problems.  Most automakers have drummed out serious engine and transmission defects from their cars."

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.

GM Media

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced it would sell all its remaining stock in General Motors in 12 to 15 months.

Today, the Treasury is announcing a plan for another big sell-off.

Officials say, "subject to market conditions," they intend to sell 30 million additional shares of GM common stock "in conjunction with GM’s inclusion to the S&P 500 index effective as of the close of trading on June 6, 2013."

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Mad Men's Don Draper is known on the AMC show as being the best guy to create an ad campaign.

He's known for lines like, "What you call love was invented by guys like me...to sell nylons."

Don's company, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, has done creative campaigns for companies like Lucky Strike, Maidenform, Heinz and Hilton Hotels.

In the most recent season, much of the company's time was spent securing an auto client -- Jaguar.

If you live in Michigan there’s a good chance you’ll head up north this summer, or maybe west to bask in the sun on Lake Michigan, but if you’re still not sure where to escape this summer, we have some fun tips on hidden vacation gems you are sure to enjoy.

And, Rick Pluta gave us an update on the Mackinac Policy Conference.

And, Daniel Howes shared his insights on how the financial and investing world views the Detroit auto companies.

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It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for our weekly conversation with Daniel Howes, the Business Columnist at the Detroit News.

This week, he focused on the business community in Detroit, where companies like General Motors are trying to give back through programs like the GM Student Corps. From Howe's column:

By itself, the pilot program unveiled in the Wintergarden of GM’s Renaissance Center, isn’t front-page news in a city bursting with the good, the bad and the financially ugly on a weekly basis. What GM Student Corps signifies, however, is another example of a key player in the business community seeing a communal need and moving to fill it, quickly.

He joined us today to discuss the business in Detroit as well as the health of the auto industry.

Listen to the full interview above.

Car companies closed a lot of North American factories in the past ten years as the auto industry restructured.

That has made Jim Tetreault's job even more of an art and a science.

Tetreault is Ford's head of North American manufacturing.  He's responsible for maximizing the number of vehicles that any of the Detroit automaker's remaining plants can produce, while minimizing the downtime at each facility.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero says he wants four more years in office. He formally announced his campaign today. 

“I’m telling you folks … Lansing is on the verge,” the partisan crowd groaned, and then laughed, as Virg Bernero joked at his campaign kickoff.

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  If you hear the word Europe, you might find yourself thinking of great places to travel, a rich history, or family roots.

If you're an auto executive and you hear “Europe,” you’ll likely sigh and take a couple of aspirin for your headache.

That's because the Detroit automakers stand to lose $4 billion in Europe this year. And with a collapse in auto sales across the pond, trying to muscle through the kinds of changes that saved the industry here in North America is a totally different challenge in Europe.

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com and Michigan Radio’s auto reporter Tracy Samilton discuss the bleak picture in Europe for Detroit automakers.

Listen to the full interview above.

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VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Yankee Air Museum is kicking off a $6 million campaign to make its home at a former facility that built B-24 bombers during World War II.

Museum officials announced this week an effort to purchase and renovate part of the former Willow Run powertrain plant. The museum is housed at Willow Run Airport, near Ypsilanti in Wayne County's Van Buren Township.

Its original headquarters was destroyed by fire in 2004.

Dennis Norton, the founder and president of the Yankee Air Museum, has presented plans to Ypsilanti Township officials. The museum says it has until Aug. 1 to secure funding, and would buy the site from the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust.

Ford Motor Co. built the plant for B-24 production. It later was taken over by General Motors.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Lansing City Council has approved a 12 year-four million dollar tax abatement for General Motors.

GM is planning a $38 million expansion to its Lansing Grand River assembly plant.  The expansion is expected to add 150 jobs to the plant.

GM currently makes its Cadillac ATS and CTS at the Lansing plant.   The automaker also plans to start producing its next generation Camaro at the Lansing plant.

1958 Chevrolet Impala.
GM

It has been one of the best selling cars of all time.

Since its inception in 1958, GM has sold more than 14 million Impalas (putting it in tenth place on 'best selling cars of all-time' lists).

It looked like this back then:

Today, the tenth version of the Impala is being made at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, and at the Oshawa Assembly plant in Canada.

Here's a photo of the new Impala rolling down the Oshawa assembly line:

GM

Two of the plants are in Michigan (Flint and Bay City), one in Toledo, and one in Bedford, Indiana.

The auto industry is working on squeezing more miles to the gallon out of the internal combustion engine, and that's what these investments are about.

The $332 million will go toward upgrading manufacturing plants to produce six and eight speed transmissions, small "Ecotech" engines, and a new V-6 engine.

GM recently announced that it will redesign, refresh or replace nearly 90 percent of its vehicles in the North American market between now and 2016.

In addition to the investments in Flint, Bay City, Toledo, and Bedford, IN, GM says it's also upping previously announced powertrain investments by $46 million. Plants in Romulus and Saginaw will see that investment.

From Ford's press release:

Since 2009, GM has announced nearly $1.8 billion of investments for the six Powertrain facilities.

“We are investing in technologies and manufacturing capabilities that produce high-quality, fuel-efficient vehicles and components for our customers,” said Diana Tremblay, vice president of GM North American Manufacturing.  “Today’s announcement demonstrates GM’s commitment to growing the business and strengthening the plant communities where we receive so much support.”

GM says its investments won't lead to new jobs, but will retain 1,650 jobs at the facilities.

The plant in Flint will see the biggest investment. $215 million will be invested in the Flint Engine Operations plant for the 3 and 4 cylinder Ecotec gasoline engines.

Nathan Boomey of the Detroit Free Press reports Flint welcomes the news:

The investment marks a dose of good news for the Flint community after GM recently announced plans to shut down its Grand Blanc Weld Tool Center, displacing 343 employees...

“The investment we’re making is to obviously put in the required capacity or adjustment to the capacity to create more fuel-efficient products for our customers,” Jones said.

Boomey reports GM declined to reveal when the investments will occur, or what cars will receive the new engines and transmissions.

In their release, GM said the new "8-speed [transmissions] will be used in numerous GM vehicles by the end of 2016."

user paul (dex) / Flickr

General Motors says the car and truck buying public will be seeing big changes in the next few years when we walk into a GM showroom.
 
GM’s North America Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens recently told analysts that the automaker will redesign, refresh or replace nearly 90 percent of its vehicles in the North American market between now and 2016.

Is this strategy a matter of blazing new trails, or playing catch-up with the competition?

This is a two-sided story. Starting this year with 2011 models, the federal government’s fuel-economy standards, which have sat frozen for years, are going to get a big-time thaw. It's the biggest change since the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) law was created in 1975.

Michigan Radio / Michigan Radio

This week, ArtPod is inspired by the massive chocolate Easter bunnies we’ve been inhaling for days now.

So to welcome Spring (hey, it’s 50 degrees!) we’re doing a bigger edition of ArtPod, squeezing in two very different  Michigan’s artists and culture-makers.

First, we start off with a full-cast radio performance of the play “RUST.”

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It's a familiar Michigan story. In 2008, General Motors decided to shutter a stamping plant in Wyoming - just outside Grand Rapids.

But to Austin Bunn, a new professor of writing at Grand Valley State University, the close of the plant wasn't the end of a story, but a beginning.

For the next four years, Bunn interviewed the workers at the plant about the experience of job loss, displacement and their lives after the close.

From these transcripts he created a documentary play, RUST. It was originally produced at the Actors' Theatre of Grand Rapids.

What you're about to hear is adaptation of the play for radio using local actors.

RUST was co-produced by Austin Bunn and Zak Rosen. Interviews conducted by Austin Bunn and Working Group Theatre. Featured actors include Tracey Walker, Rena Dam, Chris Nye, Wayne Swezey, GF Korreck, Paul Arnold, Fred Stella, and Laurence Drozd.

You can learn more about the Actors' Theatre of Grand Rapids and Austin Bunn's work by visiting their websites.

Listen to the full audio above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

General Motors is considering spending nearly $40 million to expand its Lansing Grand River plant.

On Monday, the Lansing city council will consider granting tax abatements to GM.

The abatements are tied to the automaker’s plan to spend $38 million to expand its Lansing Grand River plant. The expansion would add about 150 jobs.

GM already makes its Cadillac ATS at the plant.   The ATS recently won the North American Car of the year award at the North American International Auto Show. 

Toyota has tapped a former executive at U.S. rival General Motors to be on its board, the first time in the Japanese automaker's 76-year history it is appointing board members from outside the company.

The appointment of Mark Hogan, effective April 1, is a key part of the sprawling management changes Toyota Motor Corp. announced Wednesday. They underline its efforts to grow more international, nimble, transparent and responsive to regional markets.

Toyota set up a new division called "No. 1" to oversee North American, European and Japanese markets, and another "No. 2" for emerging markets. It also promoted four non-Japanese managers to oversee regional businesses.

Besides Hogan, two Japanese, from insurance and securities sectors, were picked as outside board members. The board appointments require the approval of shareholders.

February was a good month for the Big 3.

The increase is a sign that U.S. auto sales remain strong even in an uneven economy.

General Motors

General Motors made nearly $5 billion in 2012.

That's down a lot from 2011, when the company made $7.6 billion.

But GM CEO Dan Akerson says it was a strong year for the company nonetheless.

He says G-M "planted the seeds of growth in every region of the world."

The Detroit automaker reduced its pension obligations, bought an international finance division, and put new cars in the pipeline for 2013 and beyond.

General Motors reported today it sold more than 300,000 vehicles in the month of January, 2013 - it's best month in China ever.

From a GM press release:

General Motors and its joint ventures sold more than 300,000 vehicles in a single month for the first time ever in China last month. January sales totaled 310,765 units, an increase of 26.0 percent from the same month in 2012 and 15.9 percent above the previous all-time monthly high of 268,035 units in January 2011.

Domestic sales by Shanghai GM and SAIC-GM-Wuling, and their Buick, Chevrolet and Wuling brands all set new single-month records as well in January.

The company wholly owns two foreign enterprises in China, and has 12 joint ventures.

It employs more than 55,000 people in China.

Ford Motor Company

Many of the claims for better fuel economy from new turbo-charged engines are more hype than reality, according to tests by Consumer Reports, the independent consumer advocacy group.

The agency tested a number of vehicles that offer regular four or eight cylinder engines, and compared them to the turbo-charged version.  Turbo-charging is a technology that gets more power from a smaller engine with direct injection of extra spurts of air and fuel.

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