General Motors to open electric vehicle plant in Becancour, Que.

This image provided by General Motors shows the GM Logo. (General Motors via AP)

General Motors is making a comeback in Quebec, 20 years after closing its Boisbriand plant. The U.S. automaker and its Korean partner, POSCO Chemical, will set up a plant to manufacture battery components for electric vehicles in Bécancour, in the Centre-du-Québec region.

The plant will process active cathode materials, a key battery material that includes processed nickel, lithium and other materials that account for about 40 per cent of the cost of a battery cell.

GM and POSCO expect the project to cost US$400 million (about CDN$500 million) and create 200 jobs.

The two companies want to begin construction of the plant "immediately" and the facility is expected to begin production in early 2025, Scott Bell, president and CEO of GM Canada, said at a news conference in Montreal on Monday.

"One of the reasons we like the site is that it gives us the opportunity to expand. We have the ability to do that if necessary," he said. 

Even if GM starts work now, the current environmental process will be respected, says Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette. The ministry has already done "preliminary work" on the land in question: "What had to be identified first was the available land. This work was done even before identifying the partners who were going to settle on these sites. This work allows us to go more smoothly today."

The minister would not comment on what the next steps in the environmental assessment will be: "For future projects, there is a procedure that is well established in Quebec and we will certainly comply with it, depending on the nature of the projects that will be developed on these lands."

In December, GM and POSCO Chemical announced a joint venture to establish a plant in North America. GM's goal is to build nearly 1 million electric vehicles annually in North America by the end of 2025. The company wants the majority of components, in terms of value, to be manufactured in North America.

THE QUEBEC INDUSTRY

The announcement demonstrates Quebec's competitive advantages in the battery industry, according to François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

"What we offer in Quebec, which is special, is proximity. When you talk about the big players in the automotive industry, it's proximity to resources, to assembly plants and, of course, proximity to the market."

"Canada is the only country in the West that has all the critical minerals needed to produce batteries, whether it's cobalt, lithium, nickel or graphite," the minister said. "This puts us in a very enviable position to attract prestigious investments."

The terms and conditions of the federal and Quebec financial participation have not yet been determined. The two levels of government have yet to finalize the financial package with GM.

At Unifor, one of the unions representing GM workers in Boisbriand, they view Monday's announcement favorably. "As the largest union in the automotive sector, we follow with great interest all developments related to the battery industry. This is obviously a group we want to represent,'' the union's Quebec director, Renaud Gagné, said, in a statement.

Champagne and Quebec's economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, said the assistance would be similar to support for other comparable projects.

The announcement comes days after German multinational BASF announced plans to establish a battery manufacturing and recycling plant for electric vehicles in Bécancour last Friday. The company said the municipality was an "ideal" location for logistical reasons and for access to hydro-electric power.

GM's investment is in line with the Legault government's intentions to promote the battery industry in Quebec, Fitzgibbon said.

"First, we want to exploit and transform Quebec's minerals to manufacture battery components," he said.

"Second, we want to produce the cells that will power the assembly plants. Third, we want to develop battery recycling using Quebec technologies. Finally, we want to increase the production of commercial electric vehicles."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 7, 2022. 

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