If Oshawa Assembly can close, what’s next?

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GM closed its Oshawa truck plant in 2008, and now it will turn Oshawa Assembly into an aftermarket parts and stamping operation. A portion of the site will become a test track for autonomous- and connected-vehicle technology. The change will save about 300 jobs at the plant, but that still leaves about 2,000 people out of work. 

When GM in late 2018 announced that it would end vehicle assembly in Oshawa, much was written and said about the state of the Canadian auto industry in the 21st Century, about how automakers were more inclined to produce vehicles in cheaper jurisdictions such as Mexico and the southern United States. 

And it was easy to see why so many Oshawa workers there were angry with GM’s decision. Not only were most going to lose their jobs, they were going to lose jobs that many thought they would have until retirement. GM has been a part of Oshawa for 100 years, after all. 

To be sure, GM will still have a large presence in Oshawa. In addition to the transformation of the Oshawa plant, the automaker’s Canadian headquarters and one of its technical centres remains in the city. And Canadian auto manufacturing is still alive, with Toyota’s recent $1.4-billion investment in its Ontario plants. 

And vehicle assembly could one day return to Oshawa, at least in theory. Unifor — the union representing the workers — is hopeful that could happen in the future, though it would likely require a large upswing in the North American new-vehicle market. Considering the current downturn and the underutilized capacity at other GM plants, building cars at Oshawa Assembly is an unrealistic prospect, at least in the short- to medium-term, but a possibility nonetheless. 

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