Windsor

Windsor should take Oshawa GM closure as a warning, says U Windsor auto expert

A University of Windsor automotive expert says Windsor auto workers are just as much at risk of sudden plant closures.

'While it's unfortunate, it's not unexpected'

The FCA Chrysler Pacifica minivan is built in Windsor. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

Windsor should take the Oshawa General Motors plant closing as a warning, says a University of Windsor automotive expert.

"While it's very unfortunate, it's not unexpected," said Peter Frise, director at the Centre for Automotive Research and Education. "People have been talking about this for years."

The Windsor GM plant closed in 2008, but Frise says the industry as a whole should be on watch. 

According to Frise, the models built in the Oshawa plant are what the automotive industry calls "orphans" — meaning that vehicle is only sourced from one plant. 

"There have been a lot of signals that things were on a downturn in Oshawa," said Frise, adding that Windsor could be next.

"If you're working in a factory where a slow-selling model is being assembled, you may be in peril yourself," said Frise. "No car model has an infinite production life."

Workers arrive for their shift at the Chrysler (FCA) assembly plant. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

Locally made, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan seems to be selling strong. Sales numbers reported by FCA for January 2018 showed a a 152 per cent sales increase for the minivan in January 2018. At the time, FCA was also reporting a 33 per cent decrease in Chrysler brand vehicle sales. 

The company was also planning to replace the Dodge Grand Caravan by 2020 but have announced nothing yet.

"Families generally speaking are having fewer children, so that changing demographic could change who buys the vehicle and what vehicle they want," said Frise about the Windsor-made minivan. 

"If people stop buying Chrysler minivans we could be in difficulty in Windsor."

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, 62 per cent of vehicle content needs to be domestic content. Frise says the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement should actually help auto sales in North America.

"The USMCA requires a 75 per cent domestic content," said Frise. "In general that should help parts makers in North America to increase their sales."

Frise faults no one for the Oshawa closure, calling it a "business decision." 

"I think the key thing is that we have to earn our business every day," said Frise. "What we have to do is make sure our business case is attractive every day."

Hear more from Peter Frise on CBC's Windsor Morning:

Peter Frise is the Director of the Centre for Automotive Research and Education at the University of Windsor. He joins us to give advice to local auto workers worried by news of General Motor's Oshawa plant closure. 11:05

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