Sparks fly as more than 1,100 robots on the floor of General Motors’ assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., weld and seal parts to join the chassis, cab and box of new pickup trucks.
This part of the plant is called the “marriage” section and the process happens fast. A cab and a box get picked up by two large robots and are placed on the frame and secured in about 40 seconds. In addition to the robots, hundreds of employees help this process along.
In 2019, GM closed its Oshawa assembly plant as part of a global restructuring plan to cut costs. Then in November 2020, the carmaker invested $1.2-billion to retool and resume full-size truck production there.
Within a year, the plant delivered its first Silverado Heavy Duty in November 2021, making it one of the fastest plant launches in GM’s history. In January 2022, GM added the Silverado 1500 light-duty truck to the production line.
We recently took a tour and got an inside look at the plant’s wholesale transformation.
“All of this equipment had to be purchased, designed and installed into a building in a year, and 3,000 people had to be hired. We had old equipment to take out at the same time. And that was during COVID-19 and a toilet-paper shortage,” said Thorsten Koseck, Oshawa Assembly plant director. “All kidding aside, that also meant there were other things that were short – we were short [of] robots and other equipment. But a month and a half later, we launched on two shifts.”
In March 2023, production started on the 2024 Silverado HD truck, followed by the 2024 Silverado LD in July 2023.
And in June 2023, GM announced an additional $280-million investment to build the next generation of pickup trucks, bringing the investment to nearly $1.5-billion in the past three years. GM has yet to announce product or timing details on those trucks.
Production in Oshawa has increased to three shifts, six days a week, with 3,200 hourly workers, about half of whom are women, Koseck said. For comparison, at its peak in the 1980s, about 23,000 people worked at the plant. The plant employed about 2,500 unionized workers in 2018 when it closed.
When hiring for its reopening, GM didn’t require manufacturing experience, so it opened the door to a diverse, young work force – one that is evident during our recent tour of the general assembly and body shop buildings, which are nestled on the facility’s 700 acres of land.
Other parts of the tour focused on quality analysis, vehicle dynamics testing and numerous inspections – some done by hand on vehicles randomly pulled from the assembly line. New techniques are also being implemented, including immersive virtual reality (VR) tools designed to improve production, increase efficiency and cut costs.
“I can have a problem in Oshawa and I can work with an engineer in Warren, [Mich.], with him on VR and me on VR, so we can cross collaborate immediately,” said Karmin Smith, supplier quality manager at General Motors. “Otherwise, you have to drive down there and it’s time consuming. Everything is about timing here. We want to be as fast as we can.”
Even as the future shifts to electric, the heavy duty segment has grown by 13 per cent in Canada since 2018. “From a Silverado Heavy Duty perspective, in that same time period, we have grown 46 per cent. We’re coming on strong and Oshawa is a big component to get that availability and keep us going,” said Doug Kenzie, national marketing manager of Chevrolet trucks. “If you look at 2020, 2021, 2022 and year-to-date 2023, GM is No. 1 in heavy duty sales in Canada.”
The 2024 Chevrolet Silverado HD truck has been redesigned inside and out with powertrain upgrades, more towing capability and innovative new technology. Prices start at $60,230 for the base Silverado HD Work Truck trim. After watching these trucks be built, we took one for a test drive.
2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD High Country Crew Cab
- Base price: $96,730 (price includes freight, $100 A/C charge and up to $699 dealer fees)
- Engine: 6.6-litre turbo-diesel V8 with 450 horsepower and 975 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission/drive: 10-speed automatic/four-wheel drive
- Fuel consumption: To be announced
- Alternatives: Ford Super Duty and RAM Heavy Duty
Impossible to miss on the road. The 2500 HD is a gigantic truck with serious presence that commands attention on the road owing to its massive proportions and refreshed exterior, which includes a redesigned grille, new LED headlights and standard tow hooks at the front end.
Thankfully, side steps and a grab handle provide a much-needed boost into the cabin, which offers very comfortable seats in both rows. There’s excellent outward visibility with a commanding view of the road ahead. A thoughtful and user-friendly interior with more technology, such as a new 13.4-inch diagonal touch screen and 12.3-inch diagonal configurable driver information centre, were in my tester.
This truck is a serious workhorse that’s powerful and strong. My tester was fitted with a 6.6-litre turbo-diesel V8 mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower has increased by 25 to 450 ponies and torque is up by 65 lb-ft to 975. After a while, you get used to its big proportions and it feels more like a smaller LD than an HD truck behind the wheel.
The truck adds more standard advanced safety and driver assistance technologies, including a new available adaptive cruise control, available transparent trailer view and available trailer side blind-zone alert for towing. Also available are convenience features like Google built-in.
There’s plenty of room in the box, and a multiflex tailgate makes it easy and versatile to open. Side steps are handy for reaching the box, too.
The 2024 Silverado has many desirable qualities, from the powerful diesel engine to its bad-boy good looks. But for many buyers, its most attractive feature will likely be its Canadian pedigree.