Will Canada Let Fiat Chrysler Build Its Most Popular Cars?

Fiat Chrysler wants to open up its assembly lines on May 18. But Jerry Dias, the head of Canada’s auto manufacturing union doesn’t want it to. Across the Detroit River, UAW President Rory Gamble is good with the idea. In fact, GM and Ford plants are also eyeing May 18 as the date to crank up the assembly lines. Without Unifor, the Canadian union, giving approval no vehicles can be built there. And this is where Fiat Chrysler builds its most popular cars and minivans.

“The bottom line is I’m not sure if I’m there at all”

“The bottom line is I’m not sure if I’m there at all,” Dias told Automotive News. The news that Fiat Chrysler wanted to get the assembly plants back up to speed following its dismal first-quarter earnings report. 

WINDSOR, CANADA – Fiat Chrysler assembly plant | Getty

Back on April 25, Dias said he was “cautiously optimistic” about assembly lines starting up in May. But now he’s saying that “people are afraid” to begin so soon. “I need to make sure their concerns are completely alleviated before we would give any sort of a green light,” he says now. 

Fiat Chrysler builds LX platform cars and minivans in Canada. The LX cars include the Dodge Challenger and Charger, and Chrysler 300 sedan. Combined with its minivans these are some of Fiat Chrysler’s most popular vehicles. 

It could take until June before Canada is convinced

WINDSOR, CANADA – Fiat Chrysler assembly plant | Getty

The coronavirus gestation period is at 14 days. If Dias wants to wait to see how things go in US assembly plants it could take until June before Dias is convinced. Factories will be initiating an entire set of protocols to keep workers safe. Strict safety measures will be followed that include mandatory personal protective equipment, closure of common areas, and rigorous testing. Also, a reduction in hours worked will help to limit any possible exposure. 

“With this date being kicked around, I’m going to have to have another conversation,” Dias says. “The bottom line is before I give anything the final seal of approval I have to make sure the local union leadership is comfortable with what transpired in the plants. Until they give me the go-ahead I’m not there.” To that end, Unifor will have a “health and safety walk” this Friday at the Windsor minivan plant. 

The UAW is accepting the May 18 restart. But Dias says, “the UAW’s final decision won’t influence union leaders on this side of the border. I’m not going to follow anybody else’s lead. We’ll be making our own decision.”

Dodge Charger Drift | FCA
Dodge Charger Drift | FCA

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Fiat Chrysler has worked with states to frame its reopening of plants

On this side of the river, Fiat Chrysler has framed its restart around discussions with governors in states that it has plants in. “This is a reflection on the progress that has been made in our home states and the comprehensive health and safety measures we are adopting in our plants,” said Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley. “We don’t expect that to change between now and the 18th, but we will continue to work very closely with each of the governors to make sure that we progress towards that reopening on May 18.”

Fiat Chrysler will focus its production on filling up reduced inventories and vehicles with higher margins. Then it will align production based on demand.