Marissa West on stage, with backdrop at GM announcement
Marissa West, General Motors Canada’s president and managing director, announced that it plans to invest and start manufacturing drive units for electric vehicles at its St. Catharines Propulsion Plant in Ontario. Photo: GM Canada

GM plans to produce over 400,000 Ultium electric drive units annually at its St. Catharines Propulsion Plant, pending agreements on federal and provincial support

General Motors Canada says it intends to start manufacturing drive units for electric vehicles at its St. Catharines Propulsion Plant in Ontario — another step in the transition of the automaker’s manufacturing infrastructure from producing combustion engine vehicles to EVs.

In Monday’s announcement, which featured both Marissa West, president and managing director of GM Canada, and Lana Payne, Unifor National president, GM noted that its investment is contingent on successfully negotiating support agreements with the federal and provincial governments, expected to conclude later this year.

The plan is substantial, with a goal of producing more than 400,000 electric drive units for GM’s Ultium EV platform — enough supply for almost half of the one million electric vehicles GM plans to build annually by 2025 — while supporting approximately 500 jobs.

“This is a time of historic transformation for our industry and with this significant investment, St. Catharines will play a critical role in our EV future,” said West, in a press statement. “We are very excited to announce our plans to supply critical drive units.”

Economic backbone

GM’s Propulsion Plant has been in operation since 1952. It currently produces engine and transmission components for many of GM’s full-size trucks, SUVs and Corvettes, with a workforce of about 1,100 employees.

“For more than 70 years, highly skilled autoworkers in St. Catharines have built among the most advanced powertrains anywhere in the world,” said Payne, in a Unifor press release. “With a historic investment commitment from GM to build new electric drive units, autoworkers will continue to be the region’s economic backbone for generations to come.”

An electric drive unit consists of an electric motor, a power electronics module, and a transmission. When the three components work together, it allows for the vehicle to move forward.

Multiple vehicles built on GM’s Ultium platform have either recently entered the North American market or will do so in 2023, including the Cadillac Lyriq, the Chevrolet Equinox EV, Chevrolet Blazer EV, Chevrolet Silverado EV, GMC Sierra EV and GMC Hummer SUV EV.

“This is the outcome autoworkers and our union have worked towards for years,” said Trevor Longpre, Unifor plant chairperson at St. Catharines and Local 199, in the Unifor release.

Canadian EV supply chain

GM’s planned investment in the St. Catharines Propulsion Plant builds on a number of other significant announcements in the past 18 months related to its EV supply chain in Canada.

In December, GM celebrated the opening of Canada’s first full-scale EV assembly plant. The CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont. is now producing the automaker’s BrightDrop electric vans.

Earlier in 2022, the company announced a deal with Vale Canada to secure a supply of battery-grade nickel sulphate from Vale’s proposed plant at Bécancour, Que. The amount of contained nickel GM will receive is enough to supply 350,000 EVs per year and will be used in building GM’s Ultium battery cathodes.

In March 2022, the automaker and Posco Chemicals of South Korea announced they are building a $500-million cathode active material (CAM) plant in the Bécancour area as well.

GM is also making a $750-million investment in EV infrastructure. In October 2021, it unveiled the Dealer Community Charging Program. Participating dealers can receive up to 10 Level 2 charging stations to install in their communities across Canada and the U.S.

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