General Motors is adding 700 engineers in Canada as it expands its research and development efforts for autonomous vehicles and other technologies.
The company made the announcement at its plant in Oshawa, Ontario, which has been the subject of much speculation. The site, which has been slated for closure three times and come back from the brink each time, is supposed to be shuttered in 2017.
The new engineers will be based in Oshawa and another nearby plant in Markham, Ontario – both are suburbs of Toronto. The move comes on the heels of word from GM CEO Mary Barra that she is willing to talk about the Oshawa plant’s future with Unifor, the Canadian union representing hourly workers there.
However, for now, GM officials are simply suggesting that Oshawa’s a good spot because of where it’s located and its history.
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“We selected Canada for this expansion because of its clear capacity for innovation, proven talent and strong ecosystem of great universities, startups and innovative suppliers,” GM Executive Vice President Mark Reuss said in a statement.
The engineering positions will focus on autonomous-vehicle software and controls development, safety technology, infotainment and connected vehicle technology, GM said. As part of the expansion, the company will open a new Automotive Software Development Center in Markham.
The move comes in concert with a $10 million investment in the company’s cold-weather testing laboratory in Kapuskasing, Ontario.
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Ontario’s provincial Liberal government and GM’s Canadian president, Stephen Carlisle, have been promoting the province as a high-tech hub for connected-car development, Reuters notes. Ontario is the first Canadian province to allow on-road testing of autonomous vehicles.
While the moves gave Unifor’s president, Jerry Dias, a reason to be optimistic, he told Reuters that the growing number of resources in Oshawa for autonomous vehicles isn’t enough to replace the manufacturing jobs lost in recent years.
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He said if there isn’t new product for the aforementioned Oshawa plant that’s closing “there will be a strike in 2016.” Unifor’s contract with the Big Three automakers expires this fall.