By on September 20, 2016

Flint Silverado assembly plant

Shortly after the stroke of midnight, Jerry Dias and the rest of the Unifor-GM bargaining committee sat down in front of reporters immediately after marathon negotiations. Dias, the president of Unifor, was elated.

“I am pleased to announce to our members … that we have found a solution for your facilities,” he said to Oshawa workers through the media and the press conference live stream.

Indeed, Oshawa was saved.

That’s not to say there won’t be some pain — the Consolidated Line at Oshawa will still close on schedule in 2017 when GM begins production of a redesigned Equinox, and the union made some pension concessions — but, at least for now, the clouds have parted over one of Canada’s longest-standing auto-producing towns.

Yet, the announcement raised more questions as it answered. And there are two major unknowns yet to be revealed: the products allocated to the Oshawa and St. Catharines plants.

On the St. Catharines end of the deal, Unifor workers will build engines into the foreseeable future thanks to engine production undergoing a rare migration from Mexico to Canada. Those are the potatoes.

The meat: Oshawa. And it looks as if the decades-old home of General Motors Canada may get back into the pickup truck business.

After announcing that Unifor had “negotiated hundreds of millions of dollars of investment” for GM workers in Canada, Dias didn’t say where the new product would come from or what it would be. Instead, he simply stated that Oshawa will be the only GM facility that will “build both cars and trucks.”

Don’t let the word “truck” fool you. A truck is a truck — except when it’s not. With many SUVs and crossovers falling into the “light truck” category, the product allotted to Oshawa could be one of those two.

However, as most Oshawa workers are hoping, it could mean the return of pickup truck production to Oshawa, a product line the assembly plant lost during the throes of the recession in 2009. When pickup truck sales picked up again, that extra production went to Silao, Mexico — not Oshawa — in 2014.

Curious is how Mr. Dias categorized the production allotment. With St. Catharines, Dias was liberal with his words: Canada is taking engine production from Mexico. When it came to Oshawa, Dias didn’t utter the word Mexico once. There might be a reason for that.

Earlier this year, Automotive News reported that some Mexican pickup production could move to Flint next year. Unifor may have nabbed that production from the UAW.

Other than the possibility of pickup truck production returning to Canada, speculators have also named the Buick Envision as a possible option for Oshawa, but that may rely more on how much capacity is used at GM’s Chinese assembly plant for sale in that market. Should Chinese demand for the Envision be high, extra production might be needed on this side of the Pacific.

But Oshawa doesn’t just need a “truck.”

The plant currently builds the Buick Regal, which is scheduled to move to Germany full time; the Cadillac XTS, which will go out of production in 2019; and the Chevrolet Impala, which is also built in Michigan. The latter model is the only one of the three that could possibly stay in Oshawa long term, but full-size sedan demand is on a downward trend. Between 2013 (when the new Impala was introduced) and 2015, Impala sales volume dropped 25 percent.

Plainly: Oshawa needs another car. What that car will be is a massive question mark.

Regardless, Jerry Dias and the Unifor team have every reason to be proud. Oshawa will live another day.

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11 Comments on “Oshawa May Have Nabbed Future Truck Production From Flint...”


  • avatar
    NoID

    As an adopted Flintoid (I prefer to embrace that term of derision instead of the whimsical “Flintstone” moniker…)

    Oh no they didn’t.

    Or,

    In my very tight schedule, the list of engagements for which I cannot make room (at the top of which is bronchitis) includes discussions proposing the loss of potential economic development in Flint.

    In fact, I don’t see room in anyone’s schedule for that topic.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “St. Catherines”

    St. Catharines. With an “A”. “St. Kitts” is also acceptable.

    “Plainly: Oshawa needs another car. What that car will be is a massive question mark.”

    This is Oshawa’s problem: there’s nothing they make that can’t be easily made somewhere else. GM already has overcapacity issues and I’m sure that, given the choice, it would be closed.

    Oshawa’s saving grace, perhaps, is that St. Catharines is more indispensable. As someone who saw GM’s Glendale Ave plant shuttered and the resulting ugly layoffs do a number on all of Niagara, I find it surreal that St. Kitts is basically saving Oshawa’s bacon.

  • avatar

    GM played out its game of shutting down Oshawa knowing that the union negotiations were on the horizon, and testing the waters with Canadians.

    Billions from the Canadian taxpayer were used to bail out GM, and subsequently refunded. GM shuts down Oshawa while Ford and Chrysler assemble vehicles in Canada.

    Unifor starts a campaign to boycott GM vehicles in Canada, it would work and GM would suddenly find it hideously expensive to shut down Oshawa.

    In the meantime they are constantly tweaking pensions, and short changing the folks that are on pension.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So many issues and questions involved.

    1)’America First’ protectionism. Will the U.S. start to renegotiate or end free trade agreements? Will this result in some auto production returning to the USA? And if some from where? Mexico?

    2) Since the CAW/Unifor split from the UAW they are competing for jobs. So union protectionism no longer encompasses both nations for the UAW.

    3) Oshawa’s transportation issues. They are farther from the USA than the other Ontario automotive plants in St. Kitts, Windsor, Brampton, Ingersoll, Cambridge and Oakville. And most of the product and raw materials going to and from Oshawa has to traverse the bottleneck that is highway 401 across the GTA. Traffic to and from Oshawa may be even worse than to and from Aliston (Honda).

    4) The Canadian dollar and its value vis-a-vis the US dollar.

    5) Federal and provincial government aid/assistance/pressure on both parties.

    6) Obamacare and other medical plans in the USA and their costs vis-a-vis OHIP in Ontario.

    7) The willingness of UNIFOR to accept concessions and a two-tiered system for workers.

    8) Oshawa production quality which is historically very high, versus the rather militant attitude of its workforce.

    Historically I never felt comfortable driving ‘foreign’ (Asian/European) vehicles in and around Oshawa and whenever possible drove a GM vehicle. For about the last 5-6 years that feeling of discomfort has diminished. More and more foreign cars are seen on the streets in Oshawa which used to be a true GM town.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      IYou and mikey are the two B&B I look to decipher anything regarding Canada’s economic landscape. Thank you for this contribution.

      I went to school in Flint, so I am interested in how this turns out. I hope Flint and Oshawa both come out with more work.

      • 0 avatar
        NoID

        Same. I do find it odd however that here in the USA we (North) American tend to celebrate bringing jobs to the USA, are generally accepting of adding jobs to Canada, but move something to Mexico and you can set your watch to the spewing of the vitriol with better regularity than Old Faithful herself.

        Why the acceptance of Canadian economic development but no acceptance of Mexican economic development? Are they not people deserving of a better future and wellbeing? Is their economic and political future, just like Canada’s, not strongly linked to our own?

        In short, what makes Canada “Us” and Mexico “Them”?

        Just musing at the ‘musement of it all.

        • 0 avatar
          never_follow

          Ketchup and all dressed chips are closer to your heart than Oaxaca cheese?

          As someone who grew up in Toronto, I feel far closer to someone in Buffalo or Detroit than I do to someone in Montreal. (As a French Canadian, I feel closer to Montreal, but that’s an aside and mostly due to family ties.)

          As far as being from the Great Lakes region, We share weather, economic wealth, a love of hockey… I don’t particularly think of American border dwellers as foreign, myself.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I hope that I can continue to earn such high praise. Particularly since you are the expert regarding the manufacturing sector.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    This is an interesting development. What constitutes a truck? Maybe Colorado/Canyon since they are the hot sellers.

    I’m surprised that there is no mention of government subsidies.

    @Arthur Dailey – well said. I’m sure that the current exchange rate is helpful and offsets higher Canadian wages.

    @NoID – Mexico is seen as a South American backwater. Many forget that Mexico is North America.

  • avatar
    nemosdad

    Hmmm…I have no problem with this. GM is mandated to build xx number of vehicles sold (in Canada) in Canada. Seems fair.
    I had a ’69 Chevy CST with a 396 built in Oshawa! Hell of a fast truck. Don’t know what the rear window was made of but it was stronger than all the heads that bounced off of it.

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