Ford Motor Co. needs to invest in an engine factory in Windsor, Ont., now that it has pumped $700-million into its vehicle assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., Unifor president Jerry Dias says.
"Windsor has to be the next step for Ford," Mr. Dias said Thursday after a meeting at which the union leader urged Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of the Americas, to assign a new engine to the Windsor plant, one of two engine factories Ford operates in that city. "We need a major investment there; we came close several months ago."
Windsor lost out to Mexico last year as the site for a new family of small, fuel-efficient engines, putting its future in doubt later this decade.
Mr. Dias made his comments after meeting with Mr. Hinrichs in Oakville, where they both spoke at a ceremony marking the production of the next generation of the Edge crossover vehicle, which has increased employment at the factory by 1,400 people to a total of 4,500 employees.
Winning new investment for the Windsor engine plant and persuading General Motors Co. to allocate new vehicles to its Oshawa, Ont., facilities are Unifor's top priorities in the auto sector, Mr. Dias said after the event.
Mr. Hinrichs has said he is aware of the union's concern about the future of the Windsor plant, and noted that new investment depends on a host of factors, including the competitiveness of a country and a plant, government incentives, infrastructure and distance to markets.
He said that once the Oakville plant is at full production of Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers, output should rise. The plant produced about 256,000 vehicles last year.
Mr. Hinrichs would not divulge how many vehicles Oakville is expected to crank out at full production.
But the new vehicle is being exported to more than 100 countries compared with 60 export markets for the previous version, he said. One new market for the Edge is Western Europe, where the utility segment is growing and where Ford expects a new diesel version of the vehicle to boost sales.
Ford is not yet at the point where it needs to add production capacity by building new assembly plants in North America, he said.
"We're able to get it out of increasing the line speeds and adding incremental equipment. That's our current plan – to take what we have and get more out of it."
Current capacity in North America should meet market demand for the next two to three years, he added, in what is a boom time for auto makers, with the 2008-09 recession fading in the rear-view mirror and the U.S. market poised to top 17 million sales for the first time in almost a decade.
"Low interest rates, commodity prices have fallen, strong industry, pricing is good," Mr. Hinrichs said. "So there are a lot of good things in the auto industry in North America right now."
The strong demand has led to the investment by Ford, as well as announcements by GM and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. that they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars at their existing plants in Canada.
Nonetheless, Mr. Dias is pressing the federal government to come up with a national automotive policy in order to attract some of the new investment that has been flooding into Mexico and the southern United States.
"Today is a sign of what can be done," he said, pointing to the $140-million in federal and provincial incentive money that helped persuade Ford to invest in Oakville.