Oshawa May Have Nabbed Future Truck Production From Flint

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. Catherines plants.

On the St. Catherines 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. Catherines, 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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