General Motors of Canada Ltd. will announce on Friday that it plans to hire as many as 1,000 additional engineers, giving a strong boost to its research and development activities in Canada.
The announcement, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne are scheduled to attend, will be made in Oshawa, Ont., home of the auto maker's Canadian Regional Engineering Centre, its head office and two vehicle assembly plants.
No federal or provincial money is attached to the increase in GM Canada's R&D activities on autonomous and connected vehicles, which will take place in Oshawa and at a new facility in Markham, Ont., sources said.
GM Canada has also opened an office in Waterloo, Ont., and has said some engineers will eventually be at a site near downtown Toronto that will also house a Canadian headquarters for its Cadillac luxury-car division.
The move will give Canada a bigger slice of the billions of dollars General Motors Co. and the world's auto makers are spending on the vehicles of the future – autonomous vehicles that eventually will not require a driver, connected vehicles that will be an extension of an office or home and electric and fuel-cell powered vehicles with lower emissions and improved fuel economy.
David Paterson, GM Canada's vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs, said the company had no comment.
The political leaders are certain to be asked about the future of the two assembly plants in Oshawa, and 2,500 direct manufacturing jobs, and how they can help secure those jobs.
One of the two plants is scheduled to close in 2017 and neither factory has new vehicles allocated to it, so the future of vehicle assembly appears grim in the city where GM Canada was founded.
Whether manufacturing of vehicles will continue in Oshawa will be determined in part by negotiations this summer on a new contract for workers who are members of Unifor, the union that represents workers there and at a plant that makes engines and transmissions in St. Catharines, Ont.
But GM Canada president Stephen Carlisle has been a strong proponent of Canada as a centre of innovation and knowledge. The company announced an expansion of its R&D in Oshawa last year by hiring 100 new engineers, bringing the total there to 300.
"They feel quite strongly that they have an ability to attract and retain talent in Oshawa, and now Markham," one source familiar with GM's plans said.
Mr. Carlisle has been vocal about how Canada needs to try to encourage auto makers to make better use of the country's brain power as the industry spends tens of billions of dollars developing autonomous vehicles, working on new technology that makes vehicle electronics seamless with those in homes and researching new ways of propulsion that reduce emissions and fuel consumption.
He is fond of mentioning that the auto industry is at an inflection point similar to the early 1900s, when gasoline-powered vehicles took over personal transportation from horses and horse-drawn carriages.
Consulting firm IHS Automotive forecast on Tuesday that 21 million autonomous vehicles will be on the road globally by 2035.
Industry sources said the creation of as many as 1,000 new engineering jobs is a strong jolt of positive news, but also fretted about the future of the Oshawa assembly plants, on which thousands of jobs at suppliers also depend. That includes seat-making, bumper manufacturing, engine and transmission parts and the thousands of other components that are assembled into vehicles.
Engineering jobs are "different from 'We've got a mandate to make 300,000 of car X,'" one industry source said. "They may be higher-value [jobs], but they are more precarious."