GM Oshawa now a key producer of Silverado full-size pick-ups

Truck Town.

By Lee Bailie Wheels.ca

Aug 28, 2023 4 min. read

Article was updated a month ago

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OSHAWA, ON. – This is a place where passenger cars were once built, and it feels like it. Old, cramped, and a bit dark, GM’s Oshawa assembly plant located near the shores of Lake Ontario is an exemplar of legacy manufacturing.

Opened in 1953, the “south” plant, as the locals (including myself) used to call it, spent decades churning out mostly passenger cars, a literal who’s-who of GM biggest nameplates in the post-war era. From the Buick Regal to the Chevy Chevelle and Camaro to the Olds 442, and Pontiac Grand Prix, Oshawa was known for building the General’s best-selling vehicles.

And it remains so, but I’ll get to that further down. First, some history.

Over my lifetime, GM’s Oshawa footprint has steadily shrunk. The original assembly plant near downtown that opened in 1907 – the “north” plant – was converted to a parts facility and then sold off in the mid-1990s. It closed in the early 2000s and is now a strip mall.

The original truck plant, opened in 1965, closed in 2009 during GM’s climb out of bankruptcy, but because it’s located on the same site as the existing plant it has been repurposed for current truck production.

Then came the final crushing blow. In 2018, GM announced Oshawa Assembly would close in late 2019 ending the automaker’s uninterrupted 100 year-plus history of auto manufacturing in the city.

Happily, there was a renaissance, when GM Canada and its labour union Unifor managed to convince GM management in Detroit to bless Oshawa with a new assembly life.

GM Oshawa Assembly

Clearly, a lot has changed since the last Chevy Impala rolled off the line in 2019, but when I visited the plant recently, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed. The plant just builds trucks now, the full-size Chevy Silverado and Silverado HD pick-ups, but looking around it felt like time had stood still.

Sure, there’s more automation, different production processes, and a lot of new employees – most of its roughly 3,200 workers are new – but it’s the same plant on the same 160-acre site with finished autos rolling off the line, just as it was for decades.

This feeling is especially striking in the general assembly area of the plant, the place where the painted bodies arrive, the chassis carrying the powertrain is “married” to the cab and box, the truck’s interiors are installed, and items such as body panels and wheels and tires are attached.

Given the size of modern trucks and the adjustments needed to accommodate them, the area now feels cramped, with the line snaking back and forth across the shop floor in ways that leave little room to stretch out. No wasted space here.

GM Oshawa Assembly

But everything seems to hum along just fine. The body shop, which our tour visited, was remade for truck production in just six months and occupies a massive 13 acres. This part of the facility is the jurisdiction of robots, where more than 1,000 of these machines perform tasks such as welding, joining, and sealing that were once done by workers. After watching the robots for a few minutes, it is hard to imagine such work ever being done by humans. To say it’s dangerous, not to mention dirty, is a profound understatement.

As for the products themselves, GM is firmly committed to building full-size Chevy pick-ups in Oshawa for the foreseeable future. Not only has almost $1.5 billion CAD been spent to retool Oshawa Assembly over the past three years, but another $280 million CAD was earmarked in June for next-gen truck production.

The newest model is the updated 2024 Silverado 1500, which began production last month. It joins the 2024 Silverado HD which started production in March. The prior HD variant was the first truck to roll off the line when Oshawa Assembly resumed vehicle production in November 2021.

GM Oshawa Assembly

Production of Silverado light-duty models followed in May 2022. Interestingly, Oshawa is the only GM plant that builds both light and heavy-duty trucks. And it bodes well for Oshawa Assembly as both Silverado models are top sellers on both sides of the border. The 1500 is GM’s bestseller in the U.S. and second-best in Canada behind its corporate cousin, the GMC Sierra.

Unlike the old days of fading passenger cars like the Impala and Cadillac XTS, Oshawa now builds GM’s bestsellers, which will only bode well for its future regardless of where that path may lead.

So, yes, despite my reminiscing, things have indeed changed. GM doesn’t employ 20,000-plus workers in Oshawa like it did when I was growing up in the 1980s, back when my uncle and cousin on my dad’s side worked in the south plant. And the parking lot on Park Road isn’t bursting at the seams with workers’ cars like it once did. Those days are long gone.

But whenever I drive by that lot these days, it’s much fuller than it was two years ago, and that’s a good sign. For GM, for its employees and customers, and for Oshawa, it’s past, present, and future home.


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