GM extending Chevy Equinox production at Canadian plant

Investment does not erase worries about future of manufacturing in Oshawa, Ontario

Alisa Priddle
Detroit Free Press

General Motors announced today it will invest $9.1 million to extend production of the popular Chevrolet Equinox crossover on an auxiliary line in Oshawa, Ont., saving about 700 jobs.

2015 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ.  GM says it will make the crossover for an extra year at an extra assembly line in Oshawa, Ontario.

GM Canada President Steve Carlisle said the Consolidated production line at the Oshawa Assembly complex will remain in operation for an extra year until 2017. It had been scheduled to close next year.

The Consolidated line operates in conjunction with the CAMI Assembly plant a few hours down the highway in Ingersoll, Ont. The CAMI plant has not been able to keep up with demand for the Equinox, even with three shifts running flat out. The plant also makes the GMC Terrain.

The two plants now working together is part of what GM calls the "shuttle program"

Established in 2010, CAMI's body shop builds more units of the Equinox than the plant can paint and assemble. Those bodies are shipped to Oshawa where they're finished. Plants often share production, but they generally do not start a vehicle in one city and finish it in another.

GM announced in February that it is investing $450 million to retool CAMI for the next-generation of crossovers. Part of the investment announced today is to make changes to the body shop at the CAMI plant.

"This new investment represents a very effective way for us to meet strong demand for the Chevrolet Equinox and it's positive news for our community," Carlisle said in a release.

The Oshawa complex has received more bad news than good, of late, with GM's decision to end production of the Chevrolet Camaro in November. The next-generation Camaro will be built in the Lansing Grand River Assembly plant, and the move will result in the loss of 1,000 jobs in Oshawa. GM says retirement incentive programs will try to avert the need for layoffs.

The Flex Line, another production line in Oshawa, makes the Buick Regal, the current-model Impala and the Cadillac XTS. The Canadian union Unifor (formerly CAW) is concerned these vehicles will also be moved or discontinued.

GM's Carlisle has said no decisions will be made about future product at Oshawa until GM and Unifor negotiate a new labor agreement in September 2016.

GM employed about 15,000 workers in Oshawa in 1987; there are about 3,600 today and that will fall to 2,600 by year's end.

Earlier this week GM announced plans to invest $10 million in the St. Catharines, Ont., engine and transmission operations.

And the GM Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa is hiring 100 software engineers to conduct connected car and green technology research and development.

But Canada has been the loser in auto manufacturing and automakers continue to downsize operations in the northern country while investing heavily in Mexico.

In 2004, 11.6 million vehicles were built in the U.S., or 74% of the 15.8 million industry total. Canada built 2.7 million, or 17% of the capacity; and Mexico contributed only 1.4 million vehicles, or 9%, according to WardsAuto.

In 2014, signs were evident that production was moving south.

Mexico's production had more than doubled to 3.2 million units, or 19% of the 16.9 million industry total. It came at the expense of the U.S., which dipped to 11.4 million units, or 67%; and Canada, which was down to 2.4 million, or 14%.

And the trend will continue. Wards forecasts new plants will add 1.2 million units of capacity in North America by 2020 and it is not evenly split, with Mexico the big gainer and Canada the big loser.

Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle