It looks like Oshawa is the place

GM plant in Oshawa, Ont., a good bet to produce the reborn Camaro

Aug 8, 2006
Source - Canadian Press: MICHAEL HAMMOND

OTTAWA (CP) - The Canadian Auto Workers union is ready to pull the trigger on 2,500 early retirement packages in Oshawa, Ont., to secure the rights to produce the Chevrolet Camaro.

CAW president Buzz Hargrove confirmed Tuesday that the union negotiated with General Motors management in the spring to secure job reductions and cost savings to land the work. GM's chief executive officer Rick Wagoner is expected to announce that the company will revive the Camaro for 2008.

The union's Oshawa management told its members in its summer newsletter that it intends to look for early retirement candidates right away.

"Once an announcement is made on a new product, we intend to conduct another retirement canvass for people interested in retirement in 2007," noted CAW Local 222 vice-president Jim Hoy.

Hargrove said the union is hopeful, but has become impatient with the lack of news from GM management.

"There's some frustration that we haven't had any decision yet," Hargrove said.

The 2,500 early retirement packages could save Oshawa's No. 2 auto plant, slated for closure in 2008. With the Camaro work, the plant could stay open, saving about 2,700 jobs, analysts say.

The three auto plants in Oshawa employ slightly less than 12,000 workers.

The latest version of the Camaro has been the source of speculation since it was unveiled at the Detroit International Auto Show in January to rave reviews. GM discontinued production of the muscle car in 2002, which left 1,000 workers at a Ste-Therese, Que., plant out of work.

That plant was demolished to make way for a shopping centre.

Several automotive industry analysts peg Oshawa as a front-runner for the Camaro production, even though GM is not expected to produce huge numbers of the car initially.

Richard Cooper of J.D. Power and Associates said the union has been trumpeting its productivity rankings in Oshawa, which are among the highest in North America.

"Oshawa is very keen to demonstrate to GM that it is a high-quality facility," he said. "It's a bit of a jewel in GM's crown."

Cooper said having the Camaro work would be prestigious for Oshawa, since the model is part of the troubled automaker's plans to change its battered image and return to profitability.

GM's Wilmington, Del., plant is also rumoured to be a leading candidate for the Camaro work.

Scotiabank economist Carlos Gomes, who follows the automotive industry, said even with the loonie trading at 88 cents US, Canada has a significant edge over the United States.

"Aside from production, Canadian plants still have costs advantages," he said. "Even with the (high) dollar, these savings are still at play."

Last year, the federal government joined with Ontario to invest $435 million in the company's Ontario auto plants. Part of that money is helping to make the plants more flexible so they can accommodate the production of numerous models.

Analyst Dennis DesRosiers said the Oshawa plants are configured to handle rear-wheel models like the Camaro.

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