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Automotive

GM, Unifor announce investment in Oshawa plant that will save 300 jobs

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TORONTO — The union representing Canadian auto workers claimed a partial victory Tuesday after General Motors Canada announced an Oshawa, Ont., plant slated to close later this year will be converted to a part-stamping and autonomous vehicle testing facility.

Unifor and GM Canada said the transition will cost $170 million and save 300 of the 2,600 union jobs at the plant, with the potential to attract more jobs as the facility attracts new customers.

GM Canada president Travis Hester, who announced the so-called “Transformation Agreement” alongside Unifor national president Jerry Dias, said the Oshawa site will still end vehicle production at the end of 2019.

However, 22 hectares of the facility will be converted into a test track for autonomous and other advanced vehicles, which Hester said will help expand the nearby Canadian Technical Centre.

“I want to send a strong and positive message from GM to the people of Oshawa,” he said. “With our Canadian headquarters, our sales and marketing organization, the OnStar support centre, the Oshawa engineering centre, and the new announcements just mentioned here, GM plans to be one of Oshawa’s leading companies and employers for many decades to come.”

Dias, whose union suspended a media campaign against GM in March amid what it called productive talks with the automaker, called the agreement “innovative” but admitted it was far from a perfect solution.

“What I do know is you play the cards you’re dealt and you make the best out of a bad situation,” he said. “I will suggest that instead of us facing a hard closure in December of this year … we have an understanding between the parties of a long-term commitment.”

Dias said the agreement will help keep the company in Oshawa over the next decade.

“This announcement, though it may not have a lot of jobs as we sit here today in May, there’s going to be a heck of a lot more in December,” he said. “There’ll be more next year. There’ll be more the year after as we continue to attract work.”

A joint statement from GM Canada and Unifor said the company will offer relocations to other facilities in Ontario for those affected, as well as “enhanced retirement packages” to 1,300 eligible employees.

Industry observers said the automaker’s decision to repurpose the Oshawa plant could mark a turning point for the auto sector in Canada.

“GM has a real strong R&D centre in Oshawa and another one in Markham working on autonomous and electric vehicle issues,” said auto industry analyst Dennis Desrosiers. “Putting a test track in gives those jobs more security … but also potentially a real possibility of more jobs on the intellectual side of the industry.”

Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said the government is encouraged by the announcement.

“Just yesterday, Oshawa’s autoworkers were facing a completely uncertain future,” he said in a statement. “Today, GM has committed to providing work for hundreds of them at the plant and to supporting the others, and we want to see it through.”

Ontario Economic Development Minister Todd Smith said in a statement that the province welcomes the agreement, calling it good news for the City of Oshawa and the surrounding region.

“We are glad this historic site will continue to be a hub for vehicle parts manufacturing, technological innovation and regional economic growth,” Smith said.

However, he acknowledged that many workers still face an “uncertain future,” saying the government is working with Unifor and GM to support affected employees and their families.

Christo Aivalis, a labour relations expert at the University of Toronto, said the deal is a victory for the union, which launched a months-long public relations campaign against GM.

“I think Unifor was able to tap into a sense that these are good jobs for Canadian workers and GM has, for a long time, had a lot of loyalty from Canadian consumers,” he said. “Maybe (GM) saw real pressure from Unifor and that trickled down into the general public and they felt that there was real risk that a total closure would cause real brand damage.”

Adam Burns and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press




Automotive

Electric car sales climb in wake of new $5,000 federal rebate program

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electric car

OTTAWA — Transport Canada data shows more than 14,000 electric vehicles were purchased nationwide during the first three months of the federal government’s new rebate program.

On May 1, Ottawa began offering rebates of up to $5,000 on the purchase of some electric vehicles.

The rebate is intended to bring the price of zero-emission vehicles closer to their gas-powered cousins.

Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, says the rebate is the only thing he can point to as a reason why electric car sales jumped 30 per cent since January.

The increase happened despite a drastic drop in electric car purchases in Ontario in the first three months of the year after the province cancelled its rebate in 2018.

The federal government wants 10 per cent of all cars sold to be zero-emission by 2025, 30 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent of sales by 2040.

The Canadian Press

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Automotive

From Nazis to hippies: End of the road for Volkswagen Beetle

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FRANKFURT — Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model this week at its plant in Puebla, Mexico. It’s the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938.

It has been: a part of Germany’s darkest hours as a never-realized Nazi prestige project. A symbol of Germany’s postwar economic renaissance and rising middle-class prosperity. An example of globalization, sold and recognized all over the world. An emblem of the 1960s counterculture in the United States. Above all, the car remains a landmark in design, as recognizable as the Coca-Cola bottle.

The car’s original design — a rounded silhouette with seating for four or five, nearly vertical windshield and the air-cooled engine in the rear — can be traced back to Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who was hired to fulfil Adolf Hitler’s project for a “people’s car” that would spread auto ownership the way the Ford Model T had in the U.S.

Aspects of the car bore similarities to the Tatra T97, made in Czechoslovakia in 1937, and to sketches by Hungarian engineer Bela Barenyi published in 1934. Mass production of what was called the KdF-Wagen, based on the acronym of the Nazi labour organization under whose auspices it was to be sold, was cancelled due to World War II. Instead, the massive new plant in what was then countryside east of Hanover turned out military vehicles, using forced labourers from all over Europe under miserable conditions.

Re-launched as a civilian carmaker under supervision of the British occupation authorities, the Volkswagen factory was transferred in 1949 to the Germany government and the state of Lower Saxony, which still owns part of the company. By 1955, the millionth Beetle — officially called the Type 1 — had rolled off the assembly line in what was now the town of Wolfsburg.

The United States became Volkswagen’s most important foreign market, peaking at 563,522 cars in 1968, or 40% of production. Unconventional, sometimes humorous advertising from agency Doyle Dane Bernbach urged car buyers to “Think small.”

“Unlike in West Germany, where its low price, quality and durability stood for a new postwar normality, in the United States the Beetle’s characteristics lent it a profoundly unconventional air in a car culture dominated by size and showmanship,” wrote Bernhard Rieger in his 2013 history, “The People’s Car.”

Production at Wolfsburg ended in 1978 as newer front drive models like the Golf took over. But the Beetle wasn’t dead yet. Production went on in Mexico from 1967 until 2003 — longer than the car had been made in Germany. Nicknamed the “vochito,” the car made itself at home as a rugged, Mexican-made “carro del pueblo.”

The New Beetle — a completely retro version build on a modified Golf platform — resurrected some of the old Beetle’s cute, unconventional aura in 1998 under CEO Ferdinand Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson. In 2012, the Beetle’s design was made a bit sleeker.

The end of the Beetle comes at a turning point for Volkswagen as it rebounds from a scandal over cars rigged to cheat on diesel emissions tests. The company is gearing up for mass production of the battery-driven compact ID.3, a car that the company predicts will have an impact like that of the Beetle and the Golf by bringing electric mobility to a mass market.

The last of 5,961 Final Edition versions of the Beetle is headed for a museum after ceremonies in Puebla on July 10 to mark the end of production.

___

AP photo blog about the last Volkswagen Beetle: https://bit.ly/32bXuMx

David McHugh, The Associated Press






















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