Canada’s Oldest Auto Plant Runs Out of Vehicles

Canada had just turned 40 and Teddy Roosevelt was running a zoo out of the White House when the first automobiles rolled out of Oshawa, Ontario.

Starting in 1907, Oshawa built vehicles of the McLaughlin Motor Car Company, with the cars carrying Buick drivetrains shipped in from Flint, Michigan. An early alliance! Thank the close friendship between Sam McLaughlin and William Durant for that partnership. The Chevrolet brand set up shop at the lakeside assembly plant not long thereafter, and in 1918 General Motors of Canada Limited was formed from McLaughlin and Chevrolet Canada.

Fast-forward 101 years, and the last GM vehicle has left the factory. Workers put the finishing touches on the final vehicle today.

As a way to keep the plant humming through the end of its soon-to-expire labor contract, GM Canada shipped unfinished previous-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Oshawa for final assembly. Well, nothing lasts forever, and the same can be said of those full-size pickups.

The Canadian Press (via Global News) reports that Wednesday brought the final pickup, paving the way for 2,600 job losses at the country’s oldest auto plant. The plant’s previous products, the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala, ceased production earlier this fall.

“This has been coming in slow motion, and suddenly it’s here,” Joel Smith, a union organizer with Unifor Local 222, told CP.

“It’s not lost on anybody that this is the birthplace of General Motors. This is where it started, and that they just walked away from this, from vehicle production after over a 100 years. It’s hard to stomach.”

The current facility rose on the site in 1953, cranking out a vast range of products over the following 66 years. Among those early products, the Pontiac Strato Chief and Chevrolet Biscayne. The first signs of trouble came during the recession, when the car assembly plant’s adjacent truck facility closed its doors. Worries rose during the economic recovery, with the Chevrolet Camaro bowing out of Oshawa in 2015 and the Chevrolet Equinox disappearing in 2017.

Then came word that GM would close five North American plants; four in the U.S., one in Canada. While Detroit-Hamtramck was spared CEO Mary Barra’s cust-cutting wrath in the latest UAW-GM labor contract, Oshawa Assembly did not magically spring new models. Some 300 jobs will be retained at the site as the plant transforms into a stamping facility for GM body panels and an autonomous vehicle test facility. (A 55-acre test track, funded with $170 million in GM cash, broke ground not long ago.)

Of the 2,300 workers who stand to lose their jobs, 1,200 qualify for full retirement packages. Others will head to GM’s Ontario two technical centers, the propulsion plant in St. Catharines, or its remaining Ingersoll assembly plant. Still others will receive various buyout and lump sum packages, while the rest are eligible for up to $6,000 in retraining cash, thanks to a fund created by Unifor with the help of the Ontario government.

In an open letter published earlier this week, GM Canada President Scott Bell outlined the company’s recent steps, saying, “Positive transformations are driven by a clear sense of greater purpose. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra has always made that crystal clear. That means taking the lead in self-driving technology, electric vehicles and new business models for urban transportation. Our vision is a world with Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion. It won’t come without hard work and change, but in Oshawa, we are embracing that vision for our future.”

For many workers, their future will not include Oshawa.

first published by TTAC

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