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A sign stands outside Oshawa's General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, Canada. (Michelle Siu/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A sign stands outside Oshawa's General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, Canada. (Michelle Siu/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

GM to boost crossover production, saving jobs at Oshawa plant Add to ...

The red-hot market for crossovers will save about 200 jobs at a General Motors Co. plant in Oshawa, Ont. – at least temporarily.

GM will cease production of the older version of the Chevrolet Impala sedan at its Oshawa consolidated plant in June but will boost output of the hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox crossover.

The move will save the jobs of about 160 production workers, and work associated with Equinox production will provide employment for more than 30 skilled trades workers, said Greg Moffatt, Oshawa plant chair of Unifor, the union that represents about 2,600 workers at the consolidated factory and the neighbouring flex plant.

Workers at the consolidated plant now assemble the older Impala and do final assembly of the Equinox, which is also built at a GM plant in Ingersoll, Ont.

The consolidated plant is still scheduled to close in 2017, and no new or replacement vehicles have been earmarked for either Oshawa plant later this decade, so a question mark still hangs over the future of the GM factories – which in the early 2000s cranked out almost 900,000 vehicles a year. The two plants produced 203,183 vehicles last year.

Equinox production will rise to 352 vehicles daily in July from the current figure of 288, Greg Pratt, GM’s Oshawa plant manager, said in a memo to employees this week.

“This will equate to a neutral manpower impact allowing Oshawa to retain jobs that would have otherwise been affected by the end of the Impala Limited [edition],” Mr. Pratt said.

GM has also been hiring new workers at the Ingersoll plant to boost production of the Equinox and the Terrain, the GMC version of the compact crossover, union officials at that plant said.

The hiring at GM and the creation of several hundred new jobs at a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV assembly plant in Windsor, Ont., are part of a trend that has taken employment in vehicle and parts manufacturing to its highest level since the industry crisis during the 2008-09 recession.

Employment in vehicle assembly rose to 41,386 last year, up 3 per cent from a year earlier and 6,000 higher than the trough of 35,614 hit in 2009. The number of parts jobs rose 4 per cent to 70,751 from 2014 levels and more than 10,000 jobs higher than the parts industry trough, which was hit in 2010.

“On the surface, yes, this performance is very positive, but relative to where this industry has been in the long term, it still has a very long way to go before anyone can say it has fully recovered,” industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., wrote in a commentary on the numbers.

The assembly sector, for example, employed 55,712 people in 2000, while 98,154 Canadians worked at auto parts companies.

The jobs numbers should be higher, Mr. DesRosiers noted, given the state of the industry in North America – with record sales in Canadian and American markets last year and a 3-per-cent rise in vehicle production in Canada, the United States and Mexico last year from year-earlier levels.

U.S. data provided by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., show that employment in U.S. parts and assembly is also well below the levels hit in 2000, but auto makers have created many more jobs at U.S. plants than they have in Canada on a proportional basis.

Employment at U.S. assembly plants was 65-per-cent higher at the end of last year than it was in the trough of 2009. Employment at Canadian vehicle plants was just 16 per cent higher last year than during the 2009 bottom.

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