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GM Canada president says electric vehicles are the future — but they won’t be made in Oshawa

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GM Canada’s president says “there isn’t anything to build” after 2019 at the company’s Oshawa plant as the automaker bets big on electric and autonomous vehicles. There will be new GM jobs in Ontario, he says — just not on that long-running assembly line.

Travis Hester, an Australian, was just eight months into his new job as president of the automaker’s Canadian operation when he had to defend a change that will thrust 2,500 employees out of work and change a city that has been churning out vehicles for GM for decades.

Did he know back in April, when he arrived in Canada, that he would oversee the shuttering of the Oshawa plant?

“No, no,” he said in an exclusive interview, his first since the closure announcement last week. The decision to close the facility, which he said was made in Detroit, came down late this fall.

Hester, who has worked for GM in the U.S, Australia and China, is now facing a battle with a union that wants to save jobs, and the plant. 

“There’s not going to be any discussions with General Motors about what this orderly wind down looks like as it will be anything but orderly,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said last Friday.

But more than a week after news of the impending shutdown, GM continues to assert there is no alternative — no matter how great the pressure from the union or the governments that helped bail out the automaker in the last financial crash.

‘We don’t have any allocation’

The auto executive says he’s made it “very clear” to both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Trudeau that “we don’t have any allocation” for a vehicle at the Oshawa plant going forward.

“So it’s very difficult to have a discussion on anything beyond December 2019 because there isn’t anything to build,” said Hester as he toured CBC News through GM’s new technology centre in Markham, north of Toronto.

As GM cuts thousands of manufacturing jobs in Canada, it’s hiring software engineers and coders to help develop its vehicles of the future. The company wants to transform operations to focus on electric and autonomous vehicles and Hester said Canada has a place at the core of that development. 

GM opened a new Canadian Technology Centre (CTC) last January and has hired 450 employees, with plans for 500 more by 2020, many coming straight out of Canadian universities.

“We’re adding jobs and we’re adding development expertise and all the associated things that go with that into Canada, where it just simply wasn’t in the past,” Hester said.

He said the high-tech centre in Markham will keep growing, pulling in talent here and around the world. 

“We see the future very strong here and in Canada for the development side.”

‘We believe that battery-electric vehicles will be the vehicles of the future,’ GM Canada’s president says. 1:08

Demand for electric vehicles is just a small fraction of the current market right now. Hester, however, is optimistic that the growth will come.

Whether it’s regulatory requirements or consumer-driven change, he said GM believes “battery-electric vehicles will be the vehicles of the future.”

That vision is likely cold comfort to the Oshawa plant workers, who won’t get a crack at engineering electric cars. GM Canada has said it will help retrain some workers from the Oshawa plant for other work such as auto technician jobs in GM dealerships. 

“What’s happening now in Oshawa is very tough,” Hester said. “So as much as we are transforming the future we’re still paying a lot of attention to what we’ve got.”

Barra facing backlash

GM’s CEO Mary Barra, meanwhile, is under increasing pressure in the U.S., where thousands more manufacturing jobs will be lost. Barra has faced pressure from many — including the U.S. president — to reverse course, particularly on the plant slated to close in Ohio. She’s agreed to meet Wednesday in Washington with some senators who are strongly urging her to reconsider the plan.

On another front, the UAW union in the U.S. is preparing to fight GM, accusing it of reneging on a commitment to put a moratorium on plant closures for the life of the current contract, which ends in 2020.

The union in Canada is making the same accusation.
 
“We’ve seen that document, and we don’t believe the document states we can’t do that,” Hester said Monday, refusing to elaborate on the details in advance of discussions with the union.

Unifor leader Jerry Dias has lambasted GM for the job cuts in Oshawa, where workers have been making cars for the company for decades. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Unifor’s president said late last week that he thinks the company is trying to turn the dial away from the anger that followed the news of the Oshawa closure.
 
“They thought they would pacify the Canadian public by opening up the tech sector and then there would have been minimum noise at shut down,” Dias said on Friday.
 
“When they were opening the tech centre we said, ‘This is a wonderful initiative but don’t think that somehow this is going to replace their place of manufacturing jobs in Oshawa.’ And so that’s exactly how this thing came down.”

Fear around faltering demand

Closing Oshawa has raised new fears that if consumer demand falters in the future, GM might lean on its other two Ontario plants. But the Canadian boss said there are no changes planned for the CAMI plant in Ingersoll or the St. Catharines facility, which makes engines and transmissions.

“So these are going to be unchanged and continuing for the immediate future,” said Hester.

No changes planned in Ingersoll or St. Catharines 0:42

GM’s future in Canada will be a mix, he said, of growth in new technology and software development, along with existing manufacturing.

But all this will go forward without Oshawa’s flexible assembly plant, which was built in a way that allows it to be retooled.

Hester said the company doesn’t have enough volume to fill all the plants as demand for sedans falls.

“I don’t think you could put anything else in Oshawa,” he said. “Not without spending incredible amounts of investment, which would make it not viable.”

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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