DETROIT — General Motors reaffirmed to both the Canadian and Ontario government this week in Detroit that it does not have a viable business case to maintain production at its Oshawa assembly plant.
The automaker met with Canada’s economic minister, Navdeep Bains, on Monday evening and Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday, telling both it still intends to stop allotting product to the plant northeast of Toronto at the end of 2019.
GM said in statement Tuesday morning that it told both governments it made the decision to end production “because of rapid changes in the North American car market, the cancellation of Oshawa products and persistent low utilization at the plant.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Monday called on GM to extend production at its Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant until at least the end of its contract with Unifor in September 2020. GM should fulfill its contract with Unifor, said Ford, who met with Unifor President Jerry Dias earlier on Monday during the first day of the Detroit auto show press days.
“They said they’re going to close, but I’d love to see them open for an additional nine months,” Ford said in an interview with Automotive News Canada on Monday. “Give us another nine months. Let’s see what we can do.”
‘NEVER SAY NEVER’
Ford appeared to soften his previous stance on Oshawa as a lost cause following the Unifor meeting.
Shortly after GM made the announcement in November, Ford said GM was “gone” and that there was nothing the government could do to change that. As well, before the meeting on Monday, Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, reiterated to Automotive News Canada that the government did not think Oshawa could be saved.
“Never say never,” Ford said on Monday. “I want to make sure that they know we’re willing to sit down and speak to them and negotiate and do what it takes to keep them here in Ontario.”
Still, the premier signaled that he was skeptical those efforts would result in a change of plans at GM.
“Would we love to see GM stay here? Yes, we would,” he said. “The reality is, I’m not 100 per cent sure.”
Ford, who campaigned on ending “corporate welfare,” said the Ontario government would be willing to offer financial incentives for GM to stay at Oshawa. GM has rejected several such offers, he said.
“We’ve went down that avenue with them four times, and they’ve declined every single time,” he said.
The premier said his meeting with Dias was “very productive.” The two have had a contentious relationship dating back to Ford’s 2018 campaign, culminating with Dias cursing at the premier during a televised speech in December.
“He’s passionate. I’m a passionate guy, too,” Ford said. “He’s fighting for his people, and I’m fighting for everyone in Ontario. I said, ‘Jerry, we need to work together. Instead of fighting each other, we need to work hand-in-hand.’ He agreed, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Dias also softened his tone with Ford following the meeting, saying he’s confident the premier will fight to keep Oshawa production going beyond 2019.
“After some good engagement, I think he has a better understanding, now, of the industry,” Dias told reporters.
GM is also facing pressure from the federal government. In a statement following his meeting with Barra, Bains said GM had not changed course on Oshawa. He said earlier in the day that all federal options were on the table.
“The first thing I raised was the future of Oshawa where I urged her to reconsider the decision to close the plant,” Bains said. “I regret that GM’s position on Oshawa has not changed, but our government has been clear from the start: we stand ready to play an active role to find a solution for Oshawa’s workers and in shaping the future of the auto industry. GM is making a mistake by giving up on Oshawa’s workers, and we’re not about to do the same.”
The governments and Unifor face an uphill battle. GM on Jan. 8 rejected several proposals by Unifor to extend production at Oshawa. GM Canada said in a statement in January that “economic factors created an imperative need to consolidate operations, reduce costs and improve cash flow.”
The Oshawa plant builds the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala sedans and does final assembly on previous-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup bodies shipped from the United States. The automaker plans to end one of the pickup shifts at the plant in the summer, followed by the other truck shift and the sedan line around the end of 2019.