After months of speculation, Volkswagen Group has announced that it will build its first overseas battery plant in Canada. Expected to come online in 2027, the PowerCo plant in St. Thomas will also be Volkswagen’s first Canadian factory and will bring automotive jobs back to an area that was once a stop on Canada’s automotive highway.
Located on a 1,500-acre plot of greenfield, the PowerCo plant is expected to supply a significant chunk of Volkswagen’s North American assembly operations. Possible receivers include the upcoming Scout plant in South Carolina and the Chattanooga plant in Tennessee that currently makes the ID.4. Volkswagen Group has dubbed this Canadian plant a “gigafactory,” which should mean a capacity of at least 1 gWh, or a million kWh worth of cells. That’s an enormous number of batteries for a huge number of vehicles. As for comment on the site itself, PowerCo SE Chairman of the Supervisory Board Thomas Schmall said in a statement that “Canada and Ontario are perfect partners for scaling up our battery business and green economy jobs, as we share the same values of sustainability, responsibility and cooperation.”
The stretch of Southern Ontario between Oshawa and Detroit has always been a hotbed of automotive production. General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and Suzuki have all built vehicles and components in Southern Ontario at some point, and most of these plants were just off of Highway 401. Back in the 1960s, Ford was looking for another place to build its Falcon range of cars as Oakville became a plant for trucks and large cars. It settled on Southwold, a small community just a few minutes outside of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. Not only was this location also close to the medium-sized city of London, it was roughly equidistant to Buffalo and Detroit.
Starting in 1967, Ford built tons of small cars at St. Thomas Assembly, first Falcons, then Mavericks, Pintos, Fairmonts, and EXPs. However, a shift would come in 1983, when Ford phased out small car production at St. Thomas Assembly in favor of building the big LTD Crown Victoria. Pretty soon, it would become the only plant for the LTD Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis as Ford geared up to build the Aerostar in Missouri. However, the tides of the automotive industry were shifting and the writing was on the wall for St. Thomas Assembly. In a world of streamlining, unibody construction, and increased market share of Japanese marques, surely Ford couldn’t keep building its Panther-platform cars forever?
It might not have been forever, but St. Thomas Assembly lasted longer than any plant solely building body-on-frame full-size sedans should’ve. A full 27 years elapsed between the first LTD Crown Victoria built there and the last Panther-platform sedan to roll off the line in 2011. The last goodbye was a sad day for fans of traditional American luxury cars, a sad day for those who memorized the headlamp pattern of the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, a sad day for residents. St. Thomas Assembly employed 1,590 people, all of which had to get jobs elsewhere. These days, Amazon is turning the site into a fulfillment center. The plant outlasted GM’s diesel plant in nearby London, but its closure meant a dark spot in Canada’s automotive highway.
While Volkswagen Group hasn’t yet announced how many jobs the new battery plant will bring to the St. Thomas area, I’m confident in predicting that the St. Thomas battery plant will employ at least one person. Plants aren’t entirely automated and more people working in automotive is generally a good thing. In roughly four years, St. Thomas should be back on Canada’s automotive highway and since it’s located in North America, batteries made there and installed in North American-built vehicles could let those vehicles qualify for Inflation Reduction Act tax credits.
(Photo credits: Volkswagen Group, Ford, Scout Motors)
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While manufacturing batteries in Ontario is definitely a good thing, paving over 607 hectares (1500 acres) of prime farmland seems… short-sighted. The government doing this deal in the back room and without consultation leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
It is literally just down the road from the old St. Thomas plant (about 6km.).
One thing to remember, the USMCA Act (NAFTA v2) stipulates minimum wage for automotive factories at (IIRC) $16US/hr. This makes Canada more competitive with Mexico once the full business case is analyzed.
Mexico will continue be a major player, but no longer the easy choice it was in the past when looking to add production facilities.
London is in an interesting spot with highways and railways.
There was an earlier Ford Assembly Plant https://images.ourontario.ca/london/details.asp?ID=2296330
As for memorizing the headlight pattern, totally…the inboard orange dots!
And that few people who weren’t fleets bought them; now, it’s tougher to figure out if it’s a just a base Explorer or an Interceptor Utility.
Look for the roof rails. Interceptors don’t have them.
Where you the one who pointed this out a while back? Even if not, still genius. Though in the rearview at night, a super low profile light bar can be a little confusing.
But many contemporary driver’s propensity for turning either all their lights or none of them actually works in our favor too, as fog lights are a dead giveaway.
Not sure of the thinking here. Announce building the plant in Canada to qualify for rebate. Then go to the USA who is funding and buying most of the cars and ask them to let your other European made cars qualified. I gotta give that a big swing and a miss. Norte Americana only Herr Volkswagano