TORONTO — Fiat Chrysler this year will invest $ 262 million at its Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant “for future product,” said Unifor President Jerry Dias, who, even after a “productive meeting” with company executives Wednesday, is “not optimistic” the factory’s third production shift can be saved.
Dias, speaking with Automotive News Canada following that meeting, said the investment signals the automaker’s commitment to the minivan plant, even as the outlook for the factory’s soon-to-be cut third shift remains grim.
“They just spent $ 2 billion [on the Windsor plant] a few years ago, so when you make that type of a major investment, you’re planning on being around for quite a while,” Dias said. “They understand the importance of maximizing capacity. They were open-minded, and that’s the most I can ask for just after our first meeting since the announcement.”
FCA Canada spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing internal meetings.
The meeting came about three weeks after FCA said it would cut the third shift at the Windsor Assembly Plant by Sept. 30, eliminating about 1,500 jobs. The move comes amid weakening North American sales for the Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans the factory produces.
Dias said the investment does not signal the third shift will be saved and said he is “not optimistic” that FCA would reverse course. He described conversations with FCA as productive and said the union would continue to discuss potential solutions, including a job-sharing program involving FCA and with the federal government.
“Ultimately, we’ll see how this thing works, but Chrysler didn’t slam the door at all,” he said. “They understand the difficulty when you take off a third shift, how difficult it is to bring it back. There’s a lot of training. There’s a lot of moving parts, so the best thing you can do is be creative and keep people at work as long as you can.”
Automotive News Canada reported in March that FCA was expected to begin retooling its Windsor minivan plant in Canada over the summer so that an all-wheel powertrain could be added to the Pacifica. Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy said the plant would shut down for an additional three weeks following a planned two-week shutdown slated for the weeks of July 8 and 15.
Dias did not make it clear whether the purported $ 350 million investment is for that retooling project or an entirely new future product.
Joe McCabe, CEO of U.S.-based AutoForecast Solutions, told Automotive News Canada in March that FCA plans to replace the Dodge Grand Caravan with another entry-level minivan bearing the resurrected Voyager nameplate. It would be produced in Windsor on the Pacifica platform.
Brampton meeting next
Dias said FCA’s Canadian footprint remains strong, though the union has another meeting planned with FCA executives in the coming weeks to discuss its Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant. FCA in 2016 committed $ 325 million to retool its paint shop, but questions have persisted about its long-term product mandate.
“They reinforced time and time and time again their incredible commitment to the Canadian operations,” Dias said of FCA executives at the Wednesday meeting.
The plant builds the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger. While the Charger and Challenger are profitable for FCA, it was not expected that upcoming redesigns of the vehicles would move to the Giorgio platform underpinning much of the automaker’s product plans. That could limit which products the plant could receive, including high-margin and high-volume Jeep products.
Dias said the FCA executives at the Wednesday meeting included Mark Stewart, FCA’s COO for the North America region, and Glenn Shagena, FCA North America head of employee relations.
FCA employs 6,104 workers at its Windsor plant and 3,564 workers in Brampton, according to the automaker’s website.