'It's huge': Auto experts praise Stellantis investment into Windsor research jobs

A $3.6 billion investment by Stellantis into Windsor Assembly Plant and the expansion of the company’s research and development centre on Rhodes Drive is being lauded by experts as a foundational game-changer for Windsor-Essex.

The investment promises 650 jobs and the automaker will build and operate a 100,000 square foot facility that will become a hub for battery testing and research in North America.

“It’s going to be state-of-the-art centre to accelerate our EV best in class performance,” said Stellantis North American chief operating officer, Mark Stewart at a media conference Monday.

“This is jobs for generations to come in a very high intensive industry, big innovation, these are jobs of today and jobs of tomorrow,” said Canada’s Liberal innovation minister, Francois Philippe Champagne.

According to Stewart, engineer and software developers will be in high demand.

“It’s a good time to be an engineer in Windsor,” quipped Peter Frise, who is part of the engineering faculty at the University of Windsor.

Frise founded the automotive engineering program at the university in 1997 when electric vehicle technology was in its infancy.

Today, the faculties at UWindsor and St. Clair College are furiously revamping their curriculum to match industry needs for the workforce of tomorrow. Not only are 650 people needed to work at the research centre by 2023, but Stellantis will also need 2,500 people working at its new electric vehicle battery plant when it comes online in 2024.

“There’s a need for an injection of new talent, new vision, new energy, and that’s a healthy thing,” Frise said, noting there’s a lot of work to be done and problems to solve to optimize battery technology.

He says pressing issues include increasing battery range, reducing weight, making best use of materials to build batteries and the creation of efficient manufacturing processes.

“There’s a huge amount of R&D to still be done to really make it as good as it needs to be,” Frise said.

It will all be done at the automaker’s Rhodes Drive location, mere kilometres from where the EV batteries and Stellantis vehicles will be built in Windsor.

“You add all these things together, the layering effect of these is just incredible and will pay dividends for decades to come in the City of Windsor,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

Twenty-five per cent of Windsor’s workforce is directly employed by the auto industry, according to Frise, with many other jobs elsewhere in the economy depending on those jobs.

“Windsor’s place at the heart of the automotive renaissance is clear. Our place as the auto-mobility capital of Canada is strong,” said the mayor.

Not only does the investment re-position and future-proof the local auto industry, Frise notes the investment and work to be done will also put Windsor squarely on the map as a global automotive powerhouse.

“Those innovations will go around the world,” Frise said. “I hope that we’re able to tell the story that they’re Windsor innovations that they came from our community. They were done by our people and that’s very exciting.”