Windsor — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will receive up to C$85.8 million ($66.7 million) in funding from the Ontario government to assist the automaker in recent and future investments in Windsor.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference at the University of Windsor/FCA Canada Automotive Research and Development Centre, home to 180 employees. The announcement came amid a backdrop of a Pacifica minivan on a lift for a road test simulation and from a podium reading “Strengthening Ontario’s Auto Sector.”
The automaker will use C$69 million to support employee training, upgrades for the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant and C$16.8 million for enhanced research at the automaker’s Automotive Research and Development Centre. The hybrid electric minivan, with an estimated 30 miles of electric range, is due to hit showrooms this fall.
The funding does create any new jobs going forward, but supports more than 1,200 jobs that were recently added by the company and helps secure 4,000 existing positions at the Windsor plant.
“To continue delivering on our government’s No. 1 priority, grow the economy and create new jobs, we have to be looking ahead as Chrysler is looking ahead,” said Wynne, who later added she will meet Wednesday with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on how to leverage the region globally for the auto sector.
The Ontario government’s action follows Canada’s election of a Liberal government in November, ousting the Conservatives who didn’t support incentives. It comes two months before Unifor opens contract negotiations with Fiat Chrysler, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co.
Fiat Chrysler spent more than $2.6 billion without government incentives on the research and development of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, including significant investment to the Windsor Assembly plant that builds the vehicle. Ontario has invested C$1.1 billion in the auto sector since 2004.
In 2014, Fiat Chrysler dropped a request for provincial and federal Canadian financial assistance after its request turned into a political football leading up to the country’s elections. The company reportedly requested hundreds of millions of dollars in government aid for investments in Ontario.
“It’s never too little, too late,” Reid Bigland, president and CEO of Fiat Chrysler Canada, said. “We’re very proud of the support and grateful for the support we received from the Province of Ontario.”
Bigland said Fiat Chrysler will maintain ongoing talks with the federal and provincial Ontario government for additional investment in its Canada operations. He said the change from a conservative to liberal government in Canada has helped with discussions between the company and government.
“In 2014, there was a fairly aggressive campaign going on between the conservatives and the liberals and we got caught up in the middle of that,” he said.
Bigland said there were no current discussions between the company and Canadian government in regards to investments for the Brampton Assembly Plant. The plant produces the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans.
“We need to get through the bargaining right now with Unifor and we’ll see,” Bigland told reporters after the event.
Last month, Fiat Chrysler Sergio Marchionne said the Chrysler 300 could be built at the Windsor plant, but gave no commitment to shift production. The comment, however, has caused some anxiety about Brampton’s future. The plant currently employs about 3,450 workers on two shifts.
Unifor, formerly the Canadian Auto Workers, represents 23,000 members at the Detroit automakers. The union will begin negotiations with Fiat Chrysler, Ford and GM in August as contracts with the three companies are set to expire in mid-September.
The Windsor research and development center, celebrating its 20 year anniversary, started with a C$30 million investment. Since then, C$1 billion has been invested into the facility.