General Motors announced $890 million US in upgrade spending at five facilities on Tuesday. ((Jeff Kowalsky/Reuters))

General Motors Co. plans to spend $235 million US to upgrade its St. Catharines, Ont., plant as part of a major refurbishment of five North American plants.

The carmaker announced Tuesday it is installing new technology at those factories to improve its capacity to build next-generation vehicles.

"This marks another positive step forward in our strategy to deliver powertrains that improve fuel efficiency," said Kevin Williams, president of GM Canada.

GM will spend a total of about $890 million, which also includes:

  • $400 million to build a next-generation eight-cylinder engine at a factory in Tonawanda, N.Y.
  • $32 million in its plant in Bay City, Mich.
  • $115 million in Defiance, Ohio., and; 
  • $111 million in Bedford, Ind..

Tuesday's announcement means a secure future for the St. Catharines plant and the possibility of an additional 400 jobs in the next two decades, according to the Canadian Auto Workers union.

"The plant expansion gives us a 10- to 15-year lifespan," said Terry White, the CAW's GM unit manager for the St. Catharines area.

GM will produce the next generation of V-8 engines for a number of models in these facilities, he said.

The St. Catharines operation has about 1,440 workers, but 250 GM CAW members have been on indefinite layoff, White said.

It's hoped any new jobs associated with the plant expansion will put these idle workers back on the job, he said.

Car comeback

The U.S., Canadian and Ontario governments, as part of the relaunch of GM, provided loans of $8.4 billion and took equity stakes in the new company. The payment of $5.8 billion ($4.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $1.1 billion Cdn. to Export Development Canada on April 21) completed the payback of those loans.

Last year, GM Canada shed about 2,600 jobs with the closure of a truck plant in Oshawa, Ont. It also announced plans to close a transmission plant in the southwestern Ontario city of Windsor this year, affecting more than 1,000 workers.

However, recently, the company has announced the recall of 1,300 workers in Ontario by adding two shifts at its Oshawa site and 70 new positions at the plant in Ingersoll, Ont.