Editor's note: An earlier version of this report misstated the number of General Motors plants in Oshawa, Ontario. There is one plant with two lines. Also, the number of assembly plants in Canada remaining has been corrected.
BRAMPTON, Ontario -- If Canada is going to turn around its ailing auto industry, it will need to start here -- by convincing Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to reinvest in its 29-year-old Brampton Assembly plant.
The plant, in this sprawling suburb of Toronto, makes some of FCA's most iconic American cars -- the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Challenger -- and is known for high productivity and quality. But its paint shop is the oldest FCA has in North America, its body shop is populated by aging robots, and the big cars it builds are due for major redesigns.
An overhaul is likely to cost at least $1 billion. FCA is already spending twice that to upgrade its Windsor, Ontario, plant, where it makes minivans. If the Canadian and Ontario governments and Canada's auto union can't convince FCA to take the plunge in the next year or so, Brampton's long-term prospects are dim.
"It's do or die," said Leon Rideout, a Newfoundlander who heads the Brampton local of Unifor, the Canadian auto union. "Without investment, there's not much of a future for us."
FCA hasn't announced any immediate plans for Brampton. An FCA spokeswoman said the company is always evaluating its facilities and "considering possible upgrades to improve quality and productivity."
Brampton's plight reflects the broader troubles roiling the Canadian auto sector. As recently as 1999, Canada was the world's fifth-largest producer of automobiles, behind the U.S., Japan, Germany and France, with an auto manufacturing belt that stretched across southern Ontario, from the Detroit border crossing to the outskirts of Montreal.
But high labor costs, unfavorable exchange rates and government reluctance to offer tax breaks and other financial incentives have prompted carmakers to close five Canadian plants and downsize others. This year General Motors will eliminate 1,000 jobs at one of its two Oshawa, Ontario, lines.
Moreover, Canada has been passed over in the rush by German and Asian manufacturers to build new North American factories. Since 1999, two dozen new assembly plants have sprouted up in the southern U.S. and Mexico; Canada has gotten one in that period and has only eight left.
Canada is trying to reverse the trend. Just last week, the retired head of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Canadian operations, Ray Tanguay, was tapped to lead an automotive investment committee that will seek to help the Canadian and Ontario governments target financial aid to lure new plants and keep those they already have.
"We have to show you can have a better bottom line" in Canada, Tanguay said at a news conference in Toronto.