TORONTO (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU.N) (FCHA.MI) said on Thursday that it has invested C$3.7 billion since September 2014 and created 1,200 jobs in Canada to develop and produce its next-generation minivan. The Pacifica, which is also being developed as Fiat Chrysler’s first hybrid electric minivan, is in early production stages at the company’s plant in Windsor, Ontario, said Reid Bigland, president and chief executive of FCA Canada.
FCA had not previously detailed how much it was spending to make the new minivan, which was unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January. The Pacifica program brings Fiat Chrysler employment in Canada to just over 11,000, he said.
“It’s only pilots right now,” Bigland told reporters at the Canadian International Auto Show. “We should start to ship them out to our dealers in Canada and the United States in May of this year, give or take.”
The investment comes at a time when the Canadian auto sector is facing headwinds, as manufacturers shift production to lower cost jurisdictions like Mexico. Auto executives at the show said concerns like the Canadian government’s decision to tax federal loans to manufacturers and the country’s trade policy would impact future investment in domestic production.
Autoworkers and Canadian divisions of Detroit’s automakers met the federal government in December over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would phase out tariffs on Japanese imports to Canada in five years, compared with a phase out over 25 years in the United States.
Canada’s Liberal government is now reviewing whether to ratify the TPP, which was negotiated by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tory government.
“We are very concerned about the TPP and the impact that it has on the Canadian automobile industry,” Bigland said.
“Trade policy matters – especially with autos,“ said Dianne Craig, chief executive of Ford Motor Co (F.N) of Canada, in an earlier interview on Thursday. ”We were very disappointed with the outcome of TPP.”
Steve Carlisle, president of General Motors of Canada (GM.N), said GM has not yet taken a position on the TPP.
Reporting by Allison Lampert in Toronto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown