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Cars pass under an overpass at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. GM officials have refused to promise that equivalent production of Camaro vehicles currently assembled in Oshawa will be replaced. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Cars pass under an overpass at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. GM officials have refused to promise that equivalent production of Camaro vehicles currently assembled in Oshawa will be replaced. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

AUTO MAKING

Oshawa GM plant’s future relies on new Impala Add to ...

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of several thousand jobs at a General Motors Co. assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., depends on the success of the redesigned Chevrolet Impala.

That point was made to Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza on Monday after he met with senior GM executives to discuss the announcement made just before Christmas that the auto maker will shift Camaro production out of Oshawa to a plant in Lansing, Mich.

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“I’m feeling better than I was on Dec. 23, but I still think it’s going to take a lot of combined effort between both levels of government that supported the company and us,” Mr. Lewenza said after a meeting in Detroit with Tim Lee, president of GM’s global manufacturing operations and Catherine Clegg, vice-president of labour relations.

The CAW leader and industry analysts and sources said after the December announcement that they were worried about the future of the Oshawa plant beyond 2016. That concern arose in part from the Camaro decision, but also because a commitment by the company to manufacture at least 16 per cent of all its North American-made vehicles in Canada expires that year.

Mr. Lewenza and the CAW insisted on the meeting to press a demand that GM replace the 100,000 units of Camaro now produced annually in Oshawa that will be shifted in the fall of 2015.

General Motors of Canada Ltd., spokeswoman Faye Roberts said the company would not comment on a private meeting.

The GM officials refused to promise that production of the Camaro vehicles will be replaced, Mr. Lewenza said, but reminded him that the company has invested more than $1-billion in Oshawa in recent years so running it at maximum production makes sense.

“A lot of it’s going to depend on the new Impala and the sales, but they’ve got high expectations for that,” he said.

Production of the new version of the Impala begins in March in Oshawa, but the car is also going to be built in Hamtramck, Mich.

Mr. Lewenza said he now has a better understanding of why GM is shifting the Camaro to Lansing, where it will be built alongside the Cadillac ATS and other rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

He said the GM officials also said they prefer the two-tier contract they signed with the United Auto Workers in 2011, to the agreement on newly hired employees they signed with the CAW in September. A lower rate for newly hired employees is a permanent feature at GM’s U.S. plants, while new Canadian employees start at 60 per cent of the full rate of $34 an hour and their wages rise over 10 years to the full rate.

The issue of Canada’s competitive position in the North American auto industry arose again with the Camaro announcement and comments by General Motors of Canada president Kevin Williams last week that Canada is still the highest-cost country in the GM network.

“Our labour costs are among the highest,” Mr. Williams told reporters at an auto show in Detroit.

The CAW disputes that assertion, pointing out that all-in labour costs, which include wages, health care and the costs of pensions and other benefits, are almost identical in Canada and the United States.

Total hourly labour costs for new employees in Canada are in the low $30-an-hour range, which is about $5 an hour less than similar costs for new UAW employees at U.S. plants, data show.

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