LILLEY: More good news coming for Ontario’s auto sector


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Wednesday’s stellar news of a $5-billion investment for an electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor isn’t the end of the good news for Canada’s auto industry. In fact, there will be more announcements in coming weeks including for two Toronto-area auto assembly plants and possibly a second battery plant.

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Federal and provincial politicians at Wednesday’s announcement couldn’t help but hint at more good news to come for the once-beleaguered auto industry. Now the Sun can reveal what some of those plans will be.

The General Motors Oshawa plant which reopened just last year with 1,700 workers will expand pick-up truck production, possibly switching to the electric Sierra. The company is also investing more in their Ingersoll electric truck plant that produces delivery vehicles for the commercial market.

The announcement is coming less than a month after GM formally announced plans for a $400-million plant in Bécancour, Que., near Trois-Rivièress, to produce cathode active material (CAM) for GM’s electric battery vehicles like the Silverado, Hummer EV and Cadillac LYRIQ.

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It’s a far cry from the fall of 2018 when GM announced the Oshawa plant was closing and the company’s footprint in Canada was shrinking to a small number of parts workers and a research and development division.

In addition to the GM plant in Bécancour, German chemical giant BASF has announced that they too will build a CAM plant in the port town. Federal industry minister François-Philippe Champagne said the moves in Quebec compliment what is happening in Ontario. Quebec’s focus so far is components, Ontario’s is parts and assembly.

“This means Ontario and Quebec are now in the North American supply chain for cars of the future and everyone wins,” Champagne said.

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The other good-news announcement expected in April is an overhaul of the Stellantis plant in Brampton, giving the facility a new lease on life. The 35-year-old plant is currently producing Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, but will retool to begin production of a new mid-sized electric SUV.

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More than 3,000 people work at the plant and the Ford government has been working closely with the company to ensure those jobs stay in Ontario.

The Ford government has been on a sales blitz for Ontario in trying to attract new manufacturing facilities to Ontario, including they hope, a new auto manufacturer. That hasn’t panned out yet, but the Stellantis-LG deal that will see $5 billion invested in building the Windsor plant is the biggest auto investment in Ontario history and highly significant.

“Our government is staking Ontario’s claim as a leader in the emerging North American EV battery industry,” Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s economic development minister said Wednesday.

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What Fedeli didn’t say is that he is continuing to work on landing at least one more electric vehicle battery plant in Ontario.

An initial pitch for a Ford Motor Company battery plant in conjunction with Chinese firm CATL fell through a few months ago but talks with the company and other partners continue. Ford has already announced plans for building battery plants in Tennessee and Kentucky with Korea’s SK Innovation.

Those batteries would feed mainly American production facilities meaning there is room for a Canadian plant as well to supply their Oakville plant which is moving towards electrification.

This recent rash of announcements is a far cry from the anxiety created by the Biden administration attempting to push through car subsidies that would have had a devastating impact on Canadian auto production. With that proposal stalled in the US Senate due to opposition within Biden’s own party, the mood and investment climate for Ontario’s auto industry has turned around.

As the industry pivots towards electric vehicles due to consumer and government demands, Ontario will remain at the centre of it all.

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