Ontario funding boost for Windsor Assembly Plant, says Bigland

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Windsor Star/Grace Macaluso


Ontario’s $85.8-million boost to Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor operations will put the minivan plant and the automaker’s research and development centre at the forefront of the future of a rapidly changing auto industry, FCA Canada president and CEO Reid Bigland said Wednesday.

“It’s certainly positioning Windsor, Ontario and our company for the future because there is going to be significantly greater penetration of electrified vehicles into the future,” Bigland said. “With respect to the investments we’re making right here in our plug-in hybrid minivan, it is absolutely positioning that van for the future in the Canadian automotive industry but also the global automotive industry.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne officially announced the funding at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the University of Windsor-Fiat Chrysler Automotive Research and Development Centre. About $70 million of the total amount will flow to the Windsor Assembly Plant for upgrades associated with production of the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid, while $16.8 million will go to FCA’s research and development centre.

FCA has spent more than $3 billion in the development of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica and its plug-in hybrid variant as well as a three-month retooling of the Windsor Assembly Plant, which also builds the Dodge Grand Caravan.

Wynne made a point of praising FCA for proceeding with the investment that has led to the hiring of more than 1,200 additional workers at the plant. “Chrysler has invested close to a $1 billion in its Windsor operations and I just want to acknowledge that; that is a huge vote of confidence in Ontario and I thank Chrysler for that,” said Wynne.

Bigland used the event to “set the record straight” about his relationship with the provincial government.

“The relationship that we have with the Ontario government and the premier specifically is very strong,” said Bigland. “The premier and I speak on a regular basis on a variety of issues from environmental policy to jobs to the automotive industry as well as the state of the Ontario economy.”

The government’s investment, said Bigland, “is a perfect example of all of those issues coming together for everyone’s mutual benefit. From an environmental standpoint it’s the support of the Ontario government that is helping to make the world’s first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle a reality right here in Windsor.”

The event staged at the ARDC was the first joint public announcement since 2014, when FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne abruptly ended negotiations for federal-provincial subsidies for more than a $3-billion investment in its Brampton and Windsor plants.

The negotiations became embroiled in an election year, prompting the automaker to leave the table because it felt its funding request was being used as a “political football.”

But Bigland said contrary to media reports of a fractured relationship, the company and the province kept the lines of communication open, and the funding announcement was the culmination of that continuous dialogue.

Wynne said unlike some of her political opponents, her government does not view “partnerships” with industry as corporate welfare, and intends to pursue more opportunities within the auto sector. “There was never any question in my mind that auto is critical to Ontario, and we have an important role to play,” she said.

The Windsor stop was part of the premier’s cross-border tour that included separate meetings with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in Detroit and Joe Hinrichs, president of the America’s at Ford Motor’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

Wynne said she would tell Hinrichs her government was keen on finding ways of preserving the carmaker’s manufacturing footprint in Ontario, which includes two engine plants in Windsor and an assembly plant in Oakville.

“What we’re interested in is continuing that partnership because we have supported many investments in Ford, whether it’s in Oakville or Windsor, and we want to keep working with them.”