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An assembly line at Chrysler's minivan plant in Windsor, Ont.

DAVE CHIDLEY

The ambitious targets for jobs, vehicle production, trade performance and parts sales set for the auto industry in Canada in 2004 need to change, senior auto industry executives say.

"It's a totally different industry," Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. president Ray Tanguay said Friday after a meeting of the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council (CAPC), a joint industry-government-union advisory body.

"The industry is not going to recover overnight and [it's]not going to get back to the levels we were forecasting at that time," Mr. Tanguay said.

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His comments were echoed by Don Walker, chairman of CAPC and co-chief executive officer of Magna International Inc. , Canada's largest auto parts maker.

"We need to improve our competitiveness and competitiveness is everything that adds up to our costs," Mr. Walker said after the group's first meeting in 18 months.

"It could be health care, it could be getting across the border, it could be overregulation, it can be taxation," he said.

He said the group, which includes the CEOs of the five auto makers that manufacture in Canada, plus Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza and representatives of Canadian car dealers and the automotive academic community needs to develop a strategy for the auto industry in Canada.

"If you look at your main competitors around the world, they have a strategy," Mr. Tanguay added.

The advisory group was established in 2002 amid fears of a hollowing out of the auto industry in Canada because of plant closings and a flood of new investment into the U.S. South.

But in the past year, the industry has been rocked by the collapse into bankruptcy protection of Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp., and a plunge of more than 30 per cent in U.S. vehicle sales driven by the liquidity crisis and the recession.

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Those developments have shredded any progress the industry was making toward meeting the targets set in 2004.

Those targets were 150,000 jobs in the industry, vehicle production that equalled 15 per cent of total North American sales, an increase in the surplus of assembled vehicles combined with a reduction of the deficit in parts imports and $50-billion in parts sales annually.

The number of jobs has fallen to less than 100,000, production is running at about 10 per cent of North American sales and Canada has an automotive trade deficit because of the collapse of the U.S. market. Parts sales are at about $24-billion a year as measured by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association of Canada.

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