Au­tomak­ers vow to stay the course in Canada

Big 3 in North Amer­ica say they’ll press on with $1.5-bil­lion in­vest­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - ALEK­SAN­DRA SA­GAN

TORONTO — The three largest au­tomak­ers in North Amer­ica say they won’t wa­ver in their col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing com­mit­ments to in­vest $1.5 bil­lion in to­tal in their Cana­dian op­er­a­tions de­spite the pro­tec­tion­ist rhetoric of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“We’re very com­mit­ted to our man­u­fac­tur­ing foot­print here in Canada,” Mark Buzzell, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Ford Mo­tor Co. of Canada, said Thurs­day in an in­ter­view dur­ing a me­dia day at the Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional Au­toShow.

Ford promised last fall it would in­ject $700 mil­lion into its Cana­dian op­er­a­tions as part of a labour deal reached with Uni­for, which rep­re­sents about 6,700 work­ers at the com­pany’s fa­cil­i­ties in On­tario.

That money will go to­ward Ford’s en­gine plants in Wind­sor, and its as­sem­bly plant in Oakville, said Buzzell, who took over as Ford Canada’s pres­i­dent and CEO last month.

“We’ve got a re­ally good glob­ally com­pet­i­tive sit­u­a­tion for us here in Oakville,” Buzzell said, adding that the ve­hi­cles it pro­duces there — the Ford Edge, Ford Flex, Lin­coln MKX and Lin­coln MKT — are ex­ported to more than 100 coun­tries.

Gen­eral Mo­tors has promised to spend $554 mil­lion across its On­tario op­er­a­tions in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Wood­stock.

“We’re busily im­ple­ment­ing those projects across the three sites,” said Stephen Carlisle, pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of GM Canada.

A Fiat Chrysler spokesper­son said in an email that the com­pany com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing $325 mil­lion in Brampton and $6.4 mil­lion in Toronto op­er­a­tions and “will con­tinue to work within the struc­ture of that agree­ment.”

Since Trump be­came pres­i­dent pro­mot­ing pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies, ques­tions have arisen over whether the au­tomak­ers re­main com­mit­ted to those in­vest­ments.

Last month, prior to Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, Ford scrapped plans to build a US$1.6 bil­lion auto plant in Mex­ico and shifted in­vest­ment to the U.S. The com­pany said mar­ket forces led to the de­ci­sion.

Trump has also kick-started ef­forts to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, spoke of the need to im­ple­ment bor­der tar­iffs and with­drawn U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

Buzzell said it’s dif­fi­cult to spec­u­late on how such poli­cies could af­fect the auto sec­tor, but added that Ford is a big pro­po­nent of free trade and be­lieves NAFTA has served it well. He said Ford wants to see trade agree­ments that are fair, pro­vide an even play­ing field and pre­vent cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Carlisle said it’s pos­si­ble NAFTA could use an up­date.

“I look at it as it’s a 22-year-old agree­ment that, surely, it can be im­proved,” he said, adding life has changed since NAFTA came into play in 1994.

Trade agree­ments cur­rently in place could be im­proved upon by fa­cil­i­tat­ing bet­ter cross-bor­der ac­tiv­ity and flow of skilled work­ers, he said.

There is rea­son for Canada’s au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try to feel en­cour­aged de­spite Trump’s tough talk, said Carlisle, point­ing to Mon­day’s meet­ing be­tween the pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

Dur­ing the visit, Trump sug­gested any changes to NAFTA may be just mi­nor “tweak­ing.”

“There’s rea­son to be op­ti­mistic,” Carlisle said. “At the same time, noth­ing to be taken for granted.”

We’re very com­mit­ted to our man­u­fac­tur­ing foot­print here in Canada. MARK BUZZELL CEO, Ford Mo­tor Co. of Canada

MARK BLINCH, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Ford Mo­tor Co. of Canada CEO Mark Buzzell, at the Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional Au­toshow in Toronto on Thurs­day.

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