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Ontario Acquires Major Electric Vehicle Parts Plant Magna

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“I can’t stress how thrilled we are to have (Magna) here”

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First, a blockbuster $5 billion electric vehicle battery plant is announced for Windsor, which will employ 2,500 people.

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Today, a week later, a new auto parts plant in Chatham – feeding on the same transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles that is impacting the auto industry in southwestern Ontario – was announced.

Canadian auto parts giant Magna International, which already has two factories in nearby St. Thomas, will open a more than $50 million plant that will employ about 150 people to manufacture battery boxes for an electric version of the Ford’s popular F-150 pickup truck.

Phil Page, general manager of Magna’s Formet Industries plant in St. Thomas, said the company has seen an increase in the volume of battery boxes that “couldn’t fit within our four walls here in St. Thomas.” , so the company began looking for potential locations within a two to three hour radius for another production facility.

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“We were looking for the right sized building based on increased volume and came across Chatham, which worked for us in terms of building location and resources.”

Page said about 30,000 “battery trays” are slated for production this year at the St. Thomas plant, which began making the cases in February. The plan for the Chatham factory is to initially produce 60,000 units per year and then expand to over 120,000 battery boxes per year. This capacity is based on growing demand for the F-150 Lightning, which has already prompted Ford to double its planned production from around 80,000 to 160,000 vehicles per year depending on customer reservations.

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The cases will be built in the former Crown Metal Packaging factory, a 15,794 square meter (170,000 square meter) facility in Chatham that has been vacant since that company ended production in late 2015.

The company is taking possession of the Irwin Street building on Friday with equipment expected to start arriving as early as June. The goal, Page added, is to begin production in late fall.

He said more than $50 million would be spent operating Chatham in the first 18 months, with the possibility of an additional $50 million investment in the future. “It’s a pretty huge investment by Magna standards,” Page said.

There’s room for expansion at the current site — but not too much, Page noted, because ownership is constrained by nearby manufacturers and commercial sites.

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“Right now we’re not planning any expansion, but you never know what the future holds,” Page said.

Ford CEO Jim Farley poses with the Ford F-150 Lightning all-electric pickup truck during the unveiling at the company's global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S. May 19, 2021.
Ford CEO Jim Farley poses with the Ford F-150 Lightning all-electric pickup truck during the unveiling at the company’s global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S. May 19, 2021. Photo by Rebecca Cook /Reuters

Jamie Rainbird, director of Chatham-Kent’s economic development department, said the municipality has focused in recent years on diversifying and growing the local economy. Regarding the growing popularity of electric vehicles, he said Magna’s new plant helps “open a door that I’m glad I opened.”

“I can’t stress how thrilled we are to have (Magna) here,” he said.

Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff said the economic development department has worked to reduce the bureaucracy involved in new developments, citing Magna as a “huge example” of that success.

Page said some staff are already being trained at the Formet plant in St. Thomas, adding that the first full-time crew will also receive training there. Full-time production crew members will start at $22.90 per hour, with a 5% annual salary increase, while skilled trades positions will start at $39.01 per hour.

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Page said a job fair is planned for the near future. He noted that St. Thomas’ 1,500 employees are being canvassed to see who might be interested in moving to the new Chatham location. Once that is settled, he said the company will decide on the hiring process.

Magna’s announcement marks Chatham-Kent’s first large-scale new auto parts plant in approximately two decades. The last major factory was Autoliv, which opened a $20 million state-of-the-art facility in Tilbury in late September 1999.

More than two decades later, the factory continues to produce inflatable curtain airbags that protect drivers and passengers from side collisions.

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