I tend to worry. It’s not a trait I’m proud of, but it is what it is.
And despite the celebratory headlines generated by Unifor’s $6-billion-investment win in Detroit Three bargaining, I still worry about the future of Canada’s auto manufacturing footprint.
With the exception of General Motors’ pledge to build pickups at its plant in Oshawa, Ont., as early as January 2022, and its most recent investment in electric commercial vans in Ingersoll, Ont., almost immediately, the promises for Ford Oakville and FCA Windsor are too far off into the future to offer any peace of mind.
The Windsor minivan plant is down to two shifts from three as consumers increasingly opt for pickups and utility vehicles. Not to worry, say FCA and Unifor.
The third shift will return with a $1.3-billion plant upgrade to crank out yet-to-be named electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2025. We don’t know whether conditional government funding has been secured for the minivan plant’s retooling.
Ford’s $1.8-billion plan to assemble EVs at the Oakville plant by 2026 seems more cer- tain since Ottawa and the Ontario government are kicking in $590 million.
As we await the fruition of these promises, new questions hover over the fate of FCA’s Brampton and Windsor plants under Stellantis, which is the company born of the merger between the Detroit automaker and France’s PSA Group.
Some industry analysts warn that the struggling Chrysler brand and niche Dodge muscle cars, which are produced in Canada, could face the axe as the new company seeks cost savings.
“You can’t be cost efficient if you keep the entire scale of both companies,” Karl Brauer, executive analyst for the iSeeCars.com auto website, told the Associated Press.
Greig Mordue, ArcelorMittal Dofasco chair in advanced manu- facturing policy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., argues that the Detroit Three investments do not mark a rebirth in Canadian auto manufacturing.
“Fundamental competitive challenges persist for a country that lacks homegrown automakers,” he says.
Since 2000, multiple auto-assembly plants have closed in Canada, he says. During the same period, lower-cost Mexico has almost doubled annual light vehicle production to about four million units, says Mordue.
In 2019, Canada made fewer vehicles than Canadians purchased, the first time that has hap- pened since 1964, he says, and this year, Canadians will make about half as many vehicles as they did in 2000.
Canada also is lagging further behind “core automotive competitors” such as the United States in research and development.
“Even Canadian-based suppliers do the bulk of R&D in the U.S.”
The Detroit Three investments, Mordue says, “are helpful ... but let’s not kid ourselves that Canada’s auto industry has turned a corner.”