This story has been updated. Click here to get the latest on the protests.
US-Canada bridge blockade has ‘potential for devastating effect' for auto, tooling
An ongoing blockade at one of North America's busiest land border crossings is starting to negatively affect Canadian auto assembly, as organizations representing suppliers like the mold making industry noted increasing concerns.
Stellantis confirmed on Feb. 9 that its Windsor Assembly Plant "had to short shift its first shift due to parts shortages."
"Additionally, the first shift at the Brampton Assembly Plant was shortened on [Feb. 9]," the automaker said in a statement late on Feb. 9. "The second shift is expected to report as scheduled. We continue to work closely with our carriers to get parts into the plants to mitigate further disruptions."
General Motors Co. said its Lansing Delta Township plant in Michigan went down for parts shortages on Feb. 9 and remains down the morning of Feb. 10. No other GM plants were impacted as of early Thursday, a spokesman said.
"We are working closely with our logistics providers to mitigate any potential impacts to our production and operations," GM spokesperson Erin Davis said in an emailed statement to a newspaper in Lansing, Mich.
Representatives across Canada's automotive industry and the Windsor Police Service are calling on protesters to end their blockade.
Protesters, demanding anything from the end of vaccine mandates to the ousting of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, brought traffic onto and off the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor to a standstill Feb. 7 in Windsor.
As of Feb. 9, the Windsor Police Service and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) both said the bridge remains closed.
"We encourage the organizers of the demonstration to maintain an open communication with Windsor Police personnel, using reasoned and tempered approach to come to a peaceful resolution," Windsor police said in a 7 a.m. Twitter post.
CBSA, meanwhile, updated its border wait times website to note the crossing "temporarily closed."
The mold making industry was watching the bridge closure and protests with increasing concern.
The Canadian Association of Moldmakers and Automate Canada said they were sending a joint letter to Trudeau asking for stronger action to resolve the crisis.
Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, president of both organizations, said some member companies are "up in arms" about the business disruptions. She said one company noted it sends C$4.5 million (US$3.5 million) in tooling across the border each month.
She said the Canadian firms are worried the shutdown will make U.S. customers more reluctant to source in Canada, on top of the struggles with border trade during the two years of the coronavirus pandemic.
"This has the potential for devastating effect," she said. "In our opinion, we have U.S. customers and the U.S. public at large, if you will, that are watching what is going on here and saying, 'This is just one more reason not to do business in Canada.'"
She said the two groups, which are based in Windsor, were encouraging the government to talk with protesters.
"We need resolution," she said. "However you can come to a resolution, we need it. We're here to support."
Industry consultant Laurie Harbour said the bridge shutdown could have significant impact, noting that many mold builders in Canada buy steel and components from the United States.
"This could delay builds and deliveries to customers which will cause a ripple effect to molders that won't be able to make parts for new vehicle launches," said Harbour, who is president and CEO of Harbour Results in Southfield, Mich. "I don't have hard data but this could have a significant impact if it goes on too long."
Pockets of protesters have parked mainly pickups at multiple intersections of Huron Church Road, the six-lane thoroughfare leading to the critical piece of infrastructure that connects Windsor and Detroit.
CBSA on Feb. 8 declared the port of entry closed until further notice.
On the same day, the Michigan Department of Transportation said the Ambassador Bridge remained closed on the U.S. side. It advised those headed to Canada to use the Port Huron, Mich., crossing, which connects that American city with Sarnia, Ontario, located about 60 miles north of Detroit.
Overall, more than 25 percent of goods traded between Canadian and the U.S. moves across the privately owned Ambassador Bridge.
At the micro-level, 7,000 trucks are estimated to cross the Windsor-Detroit corridor every day, says the Windsor–Detroit Bridge Authority, the Canadian federal crown corporation responsible for administering the construction of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor and Detroit.
The bridge authority says about 2.5 million trucks cross the bridge each year. The authority says those truckloads of goods, which include auto parts and new vehicles, represent more than $100 billion in bilateral trade every year.
At the center are rules that require truckers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country. The vaccine mandate is one of the causes of the protests that have paralyzed downtown Ottawa, Ontario, for more than 10 days.
The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, which lobbies on behalf of the Detroit 3 automakers in Canada, is calling for an immediate end to the protests.
"Blockades at Canada's borders are threatening fragile supply chains already under pressure due to pandemic related shortages and backlogs," CVMA CEO Brian Kingston said in a statement. "We are calling on cooperation from all levels of government to resolve this situation and bring an immediate end to these blockades."
Kingston called the crossing "a key conduit for motor vehicles and parts, Canada's second largest export."
"Auto production relies on efficient supply chain logistics for delivery of parts, components and vehicles," he said. "Persistent delays at the Ambassador Bridge risk disrupting automotive production that employs tens of thousands of Canadians."
As of Feb. 8, the blockade had not impacted production for General Motors.
"We are aware of the situation and working closely with our logistics providers to mitigate any production disruptions," spokesman Daniel Flores on Tuesday told Crain's Detroit Business, a sibling publication of Plastics News.
Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, said in an interview that Canada's auto industry could withstand a two-day closure of the bridge before it affected supply and shipments.
In a post on Twitter, he called it "a brain-dead move" by protesters
"Blocking the Ambassador Bridge could create a daily shortage of about C$300 million (US$236 million) goods and raise prices on both sides of the border," he warned.
Volpe also thanked the truckers who aren't part of the blockade in Windsor or the occupation of Ottawa.
"Thank you to the thousands of working truckers who woke up at 3 a.m. to haul $50 million in auto parts to car factories today," he said in a separate tweet.
The protests across Canada began as truckers demanding an end to a federal vaccine mandate that required them to be inoculated to return to Canada after a trip to the U.S., which has a similar reciprocal vaccine rule.
The Teamsters union, which represents about 55,000 truckers, denounced the protests in a statement, saying 90 percent of their members are vaccinated.
"The so-called 'freedom convoy' and the despicable display of hate lead by the political right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members, and in fact has served to delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today," the union said. "We firmly believe in the right to protest government policies and voice a wide array of opinions, but what is happening in Ottawa has done more harm to Teamsters members.
"Teamsters Canada would welcome collaboration with government and employers to address today's real challenges in the trucking industry to keep the supply chain going and Canada's economy growing."
The chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge, called on officials to "take prompt action" to resolve the situation quickly.
"International commerce needs to resume," Matt Moroun said in a statement, noting that the company and his family sympathize with truck drivers and others caught up in the blockade.
"We recognize that truck drivers are essential workers that work hard to deliver necessities to all of us, and that the Canadian government has done a tremendous job with vaccine rates," he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford stopped short of calling for an end to the protests.
"The Ambassador Bridge is a vital trade artery between Canada and the U.S. Many essential workers, including frontline health-care workers, rely on it to get to work. Police are on the scene to ensure traffic is moving safely," he said in a tweet of his own.
Only passenger vehicles can access the bridge through an entrance off a more residential street. And commercial trucks are also banned from using the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel which connects the downtown cores of each city.
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