General Motors of Canada Ltd’s R&D expansion won’t help secure manufacturing jobs, exec says

OSHAWA, ONT. — A major expansion of General Motors of Canada Ltd.’s engineering capabilities will have little impact on the uncertain future of the company’s manufacturing plant in Oshawa, Ont., according to a senior executive at General Motors Co.

GM Canada plans to hire up to 750 engineers, nearly quadrupling its existing research and development workforce to about 1,000 over the next few years, the company announced Friday.

The jobs will focus on self-driving software, safety and connected-vehicle technology.

Because the new hires will fill its existing tech centre in Oshawa to capacity, GM plans to open a new software development centre in Markham, Ont., north of Toronto, and will also invest $10 million to upgrade its cold-weather testing facility in Kapuskasing, Ont.

The feel-good announcement was also a political photo-op, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne arriving together in a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, GM’s new all-electric vehicle.

But most of the questions focused on the future of the 2,700-employee Oshawa plant, which is the biggest car factory in Canada and currently has no production mandate beyond next year.

Friday’s hiring announcement will have little impact on the company’s manufacturing footprint in Canada, said Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice-president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

“Philosophically, I’m not sure it’s a massive influence because what we’re doing here and talking about today is really the future of the automobile globally,” Reuss told reporters.

“We happen to be across the street from a manufacturing facility … but I don’t think what we’re talking about today in terms of the growth and innovation piece of this is directly related to manufacturing.”

GM Canada president Steve Carlisle has said repeatedly that any product allocation will depend on the outcome of labour negotiations, which will ramp up later this summer.

Unifor, the union that represents the company’s blue-collar workers, told the Financial Post on Wednesday that there will be a strike if new vehicles aren’t allocated to Oshawa.

I’m not going into bargaining expecting that we’re going to have to give concessions at all

On Friday, Jerry Dias, the national president of Unifor, said he’s optimistic a solution will be reached, but he’s not willing to bend over backwards to make it happen.

“I’m not going into bargaining expecting that we’re going to have to give concessions at all,” Dias said. “Our members haven’t had a wage increase in 10 years, our members have given significantly over the years, so now it’s about time that we bargain job security for our members here in Oshawa.”

Carlisle said GM Canada has a future in both engineering and manufacturing.

“The way I think of it in real simple terms is we need to be inventing things to manufacture, not relying on manufacturing things that have already been invented,” Carlisle said.

He added that expanding GM Canada’s engineering capabilities “is to put a stake in the ground on which we can anchor manufacturing in the future.”

GM moved production of the Chevrolet Camaro from Oshawa to Lansing, Mich. in November, eliminating 1,000 jobs. The other vehicles produced in Oshawa — the Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Impala, Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS — are all slated to wind down or move elsewhere by 2017.

Besides Oshawa, GM Canada also has an assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont. and an engine plant in St. Catharines, Ont. The company closed its Oshawa truck plant in 2009.

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