The future of Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant seemed a little more secure Tuesday than it did Monday.
“We’re looking at making substantial investments in Windsor,” Chrysler Canada president Reid Bigland told CBC Windsor’s Gino Conte on Tuesday from the floor of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. "It’s a great plant for us. It’s doing well. It’s got a great future, in my opinion."
Monday, during a news conference, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne would not guarantee the future of the plant, which has built the company’s flagship minivan for 30 years.
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Marchionne said there is a large-scale investment “in excess of $1 billion” coming to the minivan platform but wouldn’t say whether investment would be made in the Windsor plant.
“There’s a large-scale investment required to do the minivan, but I didn’t say in Windsor,” Marchionne told reporters.
Chrysler wants government assistance and union concessions before it commits to investment.
“We’re in discussions with Ontario and Canadian federal governments,” Bigland said Tuesday. “We want to partner with our local governments.”
Marchionne met with Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Eric Hoskins, on Monday. He said he had "very good dialogue” with the province, so far.
Bigland said of the last $42 billion automakers invested in North America, only $2 billion of it has gone into Canada.
“As a country, we’re having a tough time holding on to what we have,” Bigland said. “We do have some challenges.”
Marchionne previously said he will not build any new brick-and-mortar facilities in North America.
Auto analysts on both sides of the border said expansion and investment in Windsor is more cost efficient than building a new assembly plant or even moving production from Windsor to Mexico.
“The minivan will be in Windsor for the near term future. Chrysler has no other plant in North America that the minivan could be moved to,” said Tony Faria, co-director of Automotive and vehicle research at the University of Windsor. “Over the long term, Chrysler would have an option. The option is to spend $1 billion on a new plant outside of Canada for the minivan but this would take some number of years.”
'A little bit of bluster'
Larry Vellequette, who covers Chrysler for the Automotive News, called Marchionne’s news conference “a little bit of bluster.”
“Windsor builds its vehicles better, cheaper, faster than any other plant Chrysler owns. Saying it’s in jeopardy is a little disingenuous. To think that plant is any way in danger is unrealistic,” Vellequette said. “I think, really, what’s being planned is probably being looked at is at least two vehicles [for Windsor]. It would not surprise me to see three vehicles running down that line.”
Vellequette called a new plant and even relocation “prohibitively expensive.”
It would be way more expensive to shuffle production around and it would be really petulant because they were unable to reach an agreement with the folks in Canada,” Vellequette said.
Marchionne wants Unifor, formerly the CAW, to make concessions.The union said it will not open its contract but encourages government investment.
Hoskins said the province is working to keep Chrysler in Ontario.
"We've been in discussions with Chrysler over that potential investment and i want to make sure that this deal happens," Hoskins said. "Particularly in a very highly competitive auto sector there are circumstances where it is necessary for the government to step in and provide some financial and other support but we measure that, when that time is, we measure it very very carefully."