GM Canada’s CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., has received another jolt of support from the automaker when it comes to electric vehicle production.
Nine months after GM revealed that it would utilize the facility to produce its new BrightDrop EV600 electric commercial vans starting next year, the company announced Tuesday that it also planned to produce it’s smaller sibling, the EV410, there starting in 2023.
Large scale-production of the EV600 is expected to begin at CAMI in November 2022, following a four-month retooling of the plant once current production of the Chevrolet Equinox ends in April.
Under an agreement ratified by Unifor members in January, GM Canada agreed to invest $1 billion in the CAMI plant to convert it to make the vans.
The automaker says it is using a U.S. partner to manufacture initial low-volume production builds of the EV600 until the CAMI plant is ready. The first of those builds rolled off the line earlier this week for FedEx Express and are set to hit the roads later this year.
GM touts that the EV600s have been “the fastest built vehicle, from concept to commercialization” in its history, taking roughly 20 months.
The EV410 is expected to share many features of the larger EV600, but aimed at shorter and more frequent trips. U.S. telecom giant Verizon has been identified as the first customer of the new, smaller vans.
Both van models have an estimated range of up to 400 kilometres on a full charge, GM says.
“I think it’s excellent news,” said Mike Van Boekel, Unit 1 chairperson with Unifor Local 88, on Wednesday.
“Our plant’s been down for a long time, so it would be better news if we could get some semiconductors and get everybody back to work. However, hopefully that day’s coming sooner than later. But the announcement of a second vehicle’s fantastic.”
Production on the vans likely can’t come soon enough for CAMI workers. The plant has been largely shut down since February as a result of a global semiconductor chip shortage which has wreaked havoc on the automotive sector and other chip-reliant industries.
“We actually went down Feb. 7, which is hard to believe. We’ve only been back to work for three weeks, which was in June,” Van Boekel said. According to the publication Automotive News, GM expects the CAMI facility, which has been down since mid-July, to remain idle through Oct. 15.
When the temporary shut down was announced in February, workers were initially told the plant would be idle for a week. Other GM plants have also been impacted by the ongoing chip shortage.
The shortage in chips has been driven in part by the widespread shutdown in production last year because of COVID-19 that hasn’t ramped back up as fast as demand. Major COVID-19 outbreaks in countries where semiconductor chips are manufactured have also contributed to the ongoing shortage.
Chips have been in especially high demand in consumer electronics as more people work from home, leaving the auto sector scrambling to get enough supply.
“We do have close to 100 people in the plant right now,” Van Boekel said, a significant departure from the roughly 1,600 who work at the plant on a given day. More than 600 workers have retired over the last year, he said.
“We’ve got about almost 50 people working on the new electric vehicle, and then we have close to 50 trades right now in the plant doing prep work, getting stuff ready. We are slowly building up, but we just can’t get the semiconductors,” he said.
Amid the volatility of the pandemic and the chip shortage, GM’s commitment to make the BrightDrop vans at CAMI will mean some long-term stability for the plant and its workers, Van Boekel said.
“They said it’s at least a 10-year plan… So that’s great. And I also believe the ripple effect for the community and for some other jobs as well,” he said.
“There will be less jobs overall than there will be for a regular combustible engine, but that’s just the way the nature of the electric is. I think it’s definitely the way of the future.”
He notes that the types of delivery vans soon to come rolling off the assembly line at CAMI have become even more ubiquitous as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and changing consumer tastes.
“They think there’s huge growth potential. Most people see it now in their homes with delivery service. I know I have three teenage kids and I swear we have our own truck coming to our house every day,” he said.
“Especially since COVID hit, it seems that the world’s made a major shift and I believe it’s here to stay.”
— with files from Ian Bickis of The Canadian Press