Will Chrysler stay in Canada at all? They don’t have to.
Hidden from most Americans by a wall of apathy, the Canadian union representing auto workers and others, Unifor, recently reached a deal with Ford of Canada which puts around $2 billion of investments into the Windsor and Oakville plants. That will include a new 6.8 liter engine in 2022—a monster of an engine by today’s standards; the largest FCA motor is 6.4 liters (392 cid).
6.4 liter Challenger made in Brampton, Ontario, Canada
Now it’s Fiat Chrysler’s turn to negotiate with Unifor, and the union will have a challenging time between the economy, the merger with Peugeot, and FCA’s recent product decisions.
Complicating factors for Unifor are three major changes at FCA:
- The large cars moved from their original plan (update and upgrade the existing large-car platform) to FCA’s new corporate platform/architecture, Giorgio, which will also underpin the next Grand Cherokee, Maserati Quattroporte, and other cars and crossovers; it was first seen in the Alfa Romeo Giulia.
- The Grand Cherokee now has two assembly plants, a massive brand-new one taking over the space of both Mack Avenue engine plants, and the not-that-old Jefferson Avenue facility.
- Minivan sales continue to fall, and a minivan-based crossover, expected to appear last year or when the Caravan ended production, has not materialized. It’s possible the design did not live up to expectations and was dropped.
What this means for Unifor, and for the UAW, and for car buyers in general, is that the next-generation large cars (Challenger, Charger, maybe 300, maybe a new Magnum or “300X” crossover) could be moved over to the Mack Avenue or Jefferson Avenue plants, which are right next to each other. That would cut the company’s fixed costs by maximizing plant production, and also reduce the expense of shipping parts and cars across the Canadian border. The two plants are very close to each other, which would help in terms of sharing engineers and craftsmen as needed, and in reducing inventory and shipping costs.
Pacifica-based Voyager, made in Windsor, Ontario, Canada
The falling minivan sales might mean the eventual closure of Windsor, as well; it’s even possible the minivan could move to Illinois, where the Cherokee is made. The Pacifica, Voyager, and Caravan are made on a larger version of the Cherokee’s CUSW platform, and the plant where they are made was only recently updated; if FCA planned ahead, it could make minivans and Cherokees alike, letting Chrysler move all production out of Canada.
The downside of all this is that the Canadian plants have traditionally been among (or absolutely) Chrysler’s best in quality and innovation, but the cost savings might be hard to ignore. It may also backfire; Chrysler has a higher market share in Canada than anywhere else in the world, though some that has been “bought” with ultra-cheap “Canadian Value Package” deals.
This is still an academic exercise, to a degree. Fiat Chrysler does not have to leave, and has given no indication they would leave. They have invested heavily in the Windsor plant to renovate it for the Pacifica and they have been investing slowly in Brampton as well.
Unifor will have to be extremely careful to not lose ground as they try to keep both Canadian Chrysler plants alive.
Clark Westfield grew up fixing up and driving past-their-prime American cars, including various GM and Mopar V8s. He has ghostwritten auto news for the last few years, lives in Farmingdale, New York, and can be reached at +1.516-531-4021.