Stellantis’ Ontario plants must boost productivity and efficiency to remain competitive especially as the auto industry makes the costly shift towards electrification, CEO Carlos Tavares told union officials during a recent tour of the automaker’s Ontario factories.
Tavares and a group of company executives toured the assembly plants in Windsor and Brampton last week. It was his first visit to the factories since the merger last year between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA, and part of an ongoing effort to review Stellantis locations around the globe.
“Tavares talked about the modernization of the [Brampton] plant and a different layout … to become more efficient,” said a statement issued by Unifor Local 1285, which represents about 3,500 hourly workers who assemble the Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Charger and Challenger muscle cars.
The visits were held against a backdrop of protests, which last week blockaded the Ambassador Bridge, linking Windsor and Detroit, and disrupted auto production on both sides of the border.
Tavares, according to the union, repeatedly raised the need to boost productivity.
“The corporation is pleased with the performance of the Brampton plant, but of course the need to improve quality and reduce costs was mentioned several times to remain competitive with U.S. plants.”
Tavares “talked about electrification and the associated costs.”
Uncertainty hovers over Brampton Assembly. Several auto forecasting firms predict 300 production and Dodge Challenger and Charger output will move to Belvidere, Ill., after 2023 or 2024, leaving that factory without product to build.
Tavares in May 2021 said he’s affording each of the 14 brands melded together from the merger a 10-year window to execute a business plan.
Chrysler brand CEO Christine Feuell on Tuesday told Automotive News Canada that the company plans at least three new battery electric vehicles, including a production version of the electric crossover concept introduced at CES in January, an SUV and a “freshened” minivan, currently assembled for the automaker in Windsor only.
Brampton union officials said, “while there were no announcements [about new product during Tavares’ visit] and none expected, the tone of meetings was positive.”
Tavares’ tour also came as federal and provincial governments as well as Canadian industry groups battle growing U.S. protectionism. U.S. President Joe Biden is looking to introduce rebates of up to US$12,500 for purchases of electric vehicles made in the United States.
Tavares said that if the U.S. offers the proposed rebates, the “federal government needs to do the same,” the union said, adding that Stellantis is “in discussions with government for incentives and grants for the transition to electric vehicles.”
In Windsor, union officials reminded the automaker about its pledge to invest up to $1.5 billion to build electrified vehicles by 2024 at the minivan plant, employing about 4,500 workers on two shifts.
Both Ottawa and Queen’s Park have publicly pledged to back the investment with funding. And with a provincial election set for June, “I told him [Tavares] there’s a timeline,” David Cassidy, president of Local 444, said in a Facebook video update Wednesday.
A second shift is slated to end in April – a contentious issue, which was raised by the union, said Cassidy, whose members assemble the Chrysler Pacifica and Grand Caravan, and Voyager for U.S. fleet sales.
“We told him we need to continue with the second shift.”
Tavares was accompanied by Stellantis executives including, Mark Stewart, COO, Arnaud Deboeuf, chief manufacturing officer, and Mike Resha, head of manufacturing, FCA-North America.
With files from Grace Macaluso, Greg Layson and David Kennedy.