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November 5, 2020 2:45 PM, EST

GM to Invest $1 Billion to Resurrect Pickups in Ontario

A retired workers wears a Chevrolet sweatshirt outside the GM Oshawa assembly plant in December 2019.A retired worker wears a Chevrolet sweatshirt outside the GM Oshawa assembly plant in December 2019. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg News)

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Canada’s Motor City is about to come back to life after a near-death experience threatened to end more than a century of production.

General Motors Co. says it will invest as much as $997 million to reopen its assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, under the terms of a tentative deal reached with its Canadian union.

“Subject to ratification of our 2020 agreement with Unifor, General Motors plans to bring pickup production back to the Oshawa Assembly Plant,” GM Canada President Scott Bell said in a statement Nov. 5.

The decision marks a change of direction for GM in Ontario and a major victory for Unifor, which represents about 20,000 workers at Canadian auto facilities. The company expects to hire between 1,400 and 1,700 hourly workers and begin producing the trucks in January 2022.

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The factory has suffered ups and downs over the years, even surviving GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. The last pickup rolled off the line in December 2019, seemingly a casualty of low-wage competition from Mexico and the Detroit-based automaker’s increasing emphasis on electric vehicles. While areas of the site were repurposed to make after-market parts — and more recently, COVID-19 masks — this created only a few hundred jobs.

“We will be a complete assembly operation once again,” Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, said in a news conference. “And yes, we will once again be building Silverados, and Sierras, and with this investment we will be General Motors’ only plant globally that will have the ability, and will build, heavy-duty and light-duty trucks. As we know, these are General Motors best-selling vehicles.”

Deep Roots

Oshawa’s car-making roots run deep. GM has built more than 20 million vehicles there since 1918, making it the company’s oldest active assembly plant. It began life as a carriage company founded by the McLaughlin family in 1867, the year of Canada’s Confederation.

CEO Mary Barra has devoted increasing resources to EV development, betting that climate change and urbanization will create significant sales opportunities. The move back to pickup-truck assembly in Oshawa will come in addition to other investments in Ontario focused around renewable energy, Bell said.

GM is the third of the so-called Detroit Three automakers to strike a tentative deal with Canadian union workers. In September, an agreement with Ford Motor Co. to produce five battery-powered models saved the only vehicle-assembly plant it operates in Canada. In October, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV agreed to invest in a new electric-vehicle platform in Windsor, Ontario.

“We’ve negotiated about C$4.8 billion dollars in the Detroit Three in the last month-and-a-half,” Dias said. “This is a real home run.”

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