First BrightDrop electric van rolls off GM assembly line at retooled Ontario plantVehicles
Dec 5, 2022
Emma Jarratt

Ceremony at retooled CAMI plant in Ingersoll marking launch of Canada’s first full-scale EV assembly plant featured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario premier Doug Ford, GM Canada president Marissa West and Unifor president Lana Payne

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined GM Canada president Marissa West and other dignitaries at BrightDrop ceremony in Ingersoll, Ont. Photo: GM Canada

Ceremony at retooled CAMI plant in Ingersoll marking launch of Canada’s first full-scale EV assembly plant featured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario premier Doug Ford, GM Canada president Marissa West and Unifor president Lana Payne

General Motors has reopened its retooled CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., with the first BrightDrop Zevo 600 electric van rolling off the assembly line at a ceremony today.

To formally open the factory, GM Canada’s president Marissa West was joined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Unifor president Lana Payne.

“This makes CAMI Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle plant,” says West.

The CAMI plant was retooled as part of GM’s $2-billion plan to upgrade the OEM’s facilities in the province. Production started on the BrightDrop Zevo 600 — one of two BrightDrop electric vans that will be made here — this fall.

“There is a huge competition around the world to ensure we are part of the future,” says Trudeau. “But the best selling point we have is inevitably and invariably the hard workers we have.”

GM also revealed today that DHL Canada is first Canadian partner for BrightDrop.

A new era for GM

GM has made aggressive pledges to pivot its vehicle line up to zero-emission and BrightDrop is one of the keys.

“The delivery space has just exploded,” says West, in a one-on-one interview with Electric Autonomy Canada at CAMI after the official ceremony. “Having a solution for them that is a zero-emission solution is the right product at the right time. It’s really an accelerant to General Motors’ vision of an all-electric future.”

Electrification and automation already features heavily in the retooled CAMI plant. From the large yellow mechanical arms moving pieces of vehicles around the floor (see video at bottom) to the spread of other GM electric vehicles on display for today’s announcement, the signal from the OEM about its direction is clear.

“We are absolutely committed to an all-electric future. We’re incredibly proud to have opened the first electric plant in Canada,” says West. “We are moving with a high sense of urgency.”

One of the key automated features of the CAMI plants are 13 all-electric Seegrid haulers that can drag more than 4,500 kilograms (up to 10,000 pounds) and use 10 LiDAR cameras to navigate 1.5 kilometres of the factory floor, hauling large portions of the vehicle. The units are able to auto-charge at designated stations during their duty cycles.

Automated Seegrid hauler in action at CAMI plant. Photo: Emma Jarratt

In addition to the new cutting-edge machinery, CAMI is employing 1,000 workers on one shift. But the plan is to scale up hiring and production, included the addition of a second BrightDrop van, the Zevo 400.

“By 2025 we expect to be producing 49,999 Zevos (600s and 400s) out of this facility,” says West.

GM is also investing heavily in worker skill upgrades to ensure onsite technical expertise in order to manufacture EVs.

“This is a brand new process, a brand new vehicle. We’ve developed new systems to work for our workforce here,” says David Paterson, vice-president, corporate and environmental affairs, at GM Canada. “We’ve committed with Unifor to do a study to see what learnings we have so we can share those learnings.”

Because of the newness of EV-centric manufacturing, GM and Unifor regard the first cohort of Canadian workers at the CAMI plant as essential to understanding worker upskilling needs generally.

“There are a lot of eyes set squarely in this facility,” says Unifor president Lana Payne, signalling the important role plant employees have in this transformation. “You, my friends are the torchbearers. You are at the frontlines of this electrification project.”

CAMI workers gather for a group shot inside the retooled plant. Photo: GM Canada

BrightDrop’s importance in GM line-up

With over 25,000 reservations, including a new order from DHL Canada announced during the CAMI press conference, GM has invested heavily in a “leading edge” last mile delivery solution.

“BrightDrop is now positioned to produce vehicles, add value and help us fight climate change at scale, leaving a better place for the next generation,” says Steve Hornyak, chief commercial officer of BrightDrop.

BrightDrop Zevo 600 runs on GM’s Ultium platform. It has a 400-kilometre range and 600 cubic feet of cargo space.

Both West and Patterson estimate that GM currently has two years of BrightDrop back orders to fulfill.

“It’s part of the strategy to transform the Canadian automotive industry towards an electric future,” says West. “We’re getting all the pieces together to make good in that strategy.”

Video: Emma Jarratt

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