TORONTO - The British were delivered a dose of humility when General Motors dumped their iconic domestic cars Opel and Vauxhall … to the French-Chinese conglomerate Peugeot SPA. Anti-Brexiters see this as a first sign that British goods will have a tough time entering the European market when a tariff wall is erected.
Hard to come to any other conclusion. Eighty (80) percent of all vehicles manufactured north of the Channel are slated for export, and 55% of the export is to the European Continent; 14.5% to the USA.
Whatever the final ticket price, it would go up by at least the tariff amount, say an additional 10%. But the Free Trade Agreement with the EU also meant that component parts for the production plants could move freely back and forth across the Channel. Not any more.
Add to that the long term impact of the exchange rate on the Pound Sterling and GM’s assessment of the Brexit fallout must have concluded that the additional costs were just not worth it. Its European operations had not shown a profit since the turn of the century. Even in a record-breaking production year (2016) the British market absorbed a meagre 345,000 vehicles of the 1, 750, 000 cars that came off the line.
If there is/was an industry sector more reliant on export markets it would be difficult to find. Even in Canada, the NAFTA allows for [relatively] free movement between and among partner countries of vehicles and/or components that satisfy local content rules. All other factors being equal, this alone is an inducement for assemblers to stay close to supply chains and transportation hubs that allow them to minimize controllable costs and build critical mass for economies of scale.
With Trump in the White House, the American Auto Sector is coming to grips with the reality that it may have to retrench, consolidate and focus on the American market. Canadians know all too well how a Free Trade Agreement can render a National economy and National Industry marginal. GM has been “making noises” about leaving the Canadian operations behind, despite the fact that its Canadians plants consistently rank at or near the top in terms of production efficiency.
Europe is a “mature market”, saturated from the point of view of auto ownership. Countries like France and Italy long ago surpassed a benchmark that saw two vehicles on the road for every three inhabitants. It is difficult to see where [Western] European cities would “fit one more car” – they do not make shoehorns that big.
The market is “so sophisticated” that it has become a “replacement marketplace” where consumers demand innovative and quality products to switch from what they might have. The transportation infrastructure cannot handle anything else and consumers do have choices.
Peugeot SPA (in which both the Chinese and French governments each have a 14% share) accepted that to grow, it needed first to absorb competitors in the marketplace, then expand its product to another market … China(?), India(?) … but not Britain. That would be a place to leave.
Peugeot and GM have mouthed all of the right words for the sake of unions and public consumption in respect of honoring existing contracts and commitments. No problem. They will be done in a year or two, possibly three as Brexit takes hold.
FCA is cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Should it merge with VW, the new entity will follow the well- beaten path of plant closures and lay-offs - in Italy as well as in Canada. Their Chrysler plants in Canada are among the oldest in the business.
Marchionne, their CEO, has already give several signals about his intentions. He demanded $750 Million from the Ontario government as a precondition to remain in Brampton; he has given Trump assurances that he will invest up to $1 Billion in the USA, and he has systematically moved small car production from Italy to other low labour cost production centres.
The truth of the matter is that Peugeot, GM, VW or FCA have no loyalty to their host or their workers; they will do anything they can to gain, retain or expand their market share – the quality of their product is consistent with the level of consumer protection enforced by a willing government. Their mantra for success is innovate, cheat or change the law.
The latter three have been caught cheating. Now it appears that Donald Trump may not indeed change the law.
TORONTO - Monday, March 14, Peugeot SPA, a French auto giant, closed a deal to acquire Opel (Europe) and Vauxhall (Britain) from General Motors. With it, Peugeot becomes the second largest automaker in Europe.
The move will not have caught either VW or FCA by surprise. FCA in particular, like a lioness in heat, had been offering itself to GM and to VW.
Last week, probably in response to news that exploratory merger talks between Peugeot and GM were becoming serious, FCA’s CEO groused to Italian media that the company was being shunned by the other Auto players in the European market. VW responded with classic condescension to FCA’s lamentations.
The emergence of a Peugeot-Opel-Vauxhall conglomerate, however, may have focused the mind. What may have been unpalatable 48 hours ago has taken on a different hue.
Yesterday, VW appears to have changed its mind about either a merger with FCA if not indeed an outright purchase of its decidedly junior partner. At annual revenues of $149 billion CDN, FCA is just less than halve the size of VW at $305 billion CDN.
Both have reputational and brand problems in the USA that carry financial and [potentially] criminal liabilities. Operating profits for VW dropped 10% last year after the charges from the Environmental Protection Agency started to take hold.
Matthias Mueller, its CEO, is cleaning up VW’s corporate culture and focusing on the company’s core business and strategic plan for the USA.
VW made changes “at the top”, set aside $34 billion CDN to settle fines and court challenges in the USA. No more escort services and all-expenses-paid trips to Paris for wives and girlfriends.
Mueller doesn’t have time for games. Governments, competitors and consumers are lining up to follow the US example. All that money (potentially $50 billion CDN) must come from somewhere.
But FCA has yet to come to grips with its own challenges in the US marketplace: it continues to deny charges of fraudulent reporting; address fines associated with it (c. $1 Billion CDN); has been compelled to recall 500,000 vehicles for shoddy workmanship and faces a $5.8 billion CDN fine for the same emissions scandal.
Its CEO, Sergio Marchionne, a hands-on administrator, cultivates a public image of the perennial mendicant, homeless man … ad nauseum. He “toys with media”, tossing out nuggets of information designed to distract and confound.
Italians are still bitter about how FIAT took $12 billion CDN in direct government but re-invested only $10 billion CDN back into the industry over the last ten years.
Unions gripe that despite an estimated $100 billion CDN in indirect support over the last 25 years, FIAT still cut thousand of jobs, closed plants and moved its operation off-shore to Britain. Clearly Trust is an issue.
Nonetheless, business is business and Mueller reluctantly opened the door, ever so slightly. Yesterday, he offered that if Marchionne is serious “he should be talking to us” rather than to the Media.
Consumers, workers and pensioners should check the locks on their safes.
TORONTO - It’s a new era when CEOs publicly exclaim that no one is interested in buying their company, despite their every effort to sell [to any bidder, at any price]. Last week, in the wake of VW’s admissions of guilt before charges in the USA, the Italian Press - no friend of Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler – was overloaded with stories about the rejected “suitor” looking to unload his wares.
“I am knocking on all doors”, he moaned, “but no one is answering”, or so he is quoted by one Daily. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the few potential buyers, Volkswagen (which he has been courting for years), may once again be in serious difficulty.
VW, an automobile and financing conglomerate based in Lower Saxony, Germany, had revenues of $305.2 Billion Canadian in 2015, $ 2 Billion net profit after taxes. Then it ran afoul of the USA Environmental Protection Agency and attendant, legislatively mandated Clean Air Agencies.
Over the last two years, investigations (followed closely by Industry, Sectoral Analysts and researchers) of the Auto giant and its production and marketing practices centered in, but not exclusive to, the USA have revealed an organization with a culture bereft of any moral compass.
Its “take no prisoners approach” to the marketplace and its consumers make the proponents of the Wild West ethics in Business look like Choir Boys, if not saints.
In the words of one Industry analyst published in Forbes Magazine, “they stretched the limits of the Law” to establish roots in the US market; sometimes acting as if they were above it. They got caught.
Once the darling of the Industry (flirting briefly with top spot world-wide), it now faces the daunting task of meeting its obligations and reputation recovery. Several of its senior managers and engineers face the risk of time in jail.
The government of Germany may itself be implicated. That of the federated state of Saxony certainly is. Of its 610,000 employees (2015 data) 110,000 (18%) are in Germany. The relationship between management, government and the unions are blurred at the best of times – the unions are guaranteed 8 of the 20 members of the board.
The government of Saxony, population 8 million, holds 20% of the voting shares in the company and a veto over the company’s strategic decisions.
One of them was to design and develop technology that would make their diesel-powered vehicles pass the Clean Air Agency Boards requirements guiding permissible (safe) emissions. VW decided to concentrate on the trap and defeat mechanisms to “cheat the system” and “dupe the public”.
North Americans do not as a rule favour diesel powered cars, contrary to Europeans who represent 75% of the diesel market. The problem is that diesel emits up to 40x the acceptable level of carcinogenic Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) than gasoline. According to the European Environmental Agency, 500,000 deaths were attributable to NOx induced carcinogens in 2014.
VW essentially assured the American public and authorities that its products were not only efficient but safe for humans and the environment. Americans showered VW with subsidies. Now they are suing the government of Saxony to recover over $66 million. Spain is likewise attempting to recover $72 Million CDN.
VW has admitted guilt and agreed to pay $5.4 Billion CDN to US authorities for deliberately exceeding the NOx emissions levels, for falsifying reporting data and for unfair business practices and other issues. And, it is continuing to pursue criminal charges against senior executives. Other Nations are following suit.
Is it any wonder that VW, already owner of the Lamborghini brand, responded to questions about their potential acquisition of FCA with the laconic “it’s not on our radar”?
TORONTO - More than twenty-one thousand (21,000) residents voluntarily gave up their Canadian Permanent Resident status in the last two years.
For the uninitiated, this means that, despite the challenges successful immigrants faced to enter Canada, they decided not to proceed toward citizenship. Moreover, to avoid any confusion in their country of origin, they formally renounced any ties to Canada. This, according to Richard Kurland, a noted Vancouver immigration lawyer, whose blog is followed by the Vancouver Sun and cited in the Montreal Gazette on March, 7.
It is their right, of course. People are not obliged to remain in Canada once they are landed, despite the often-repeated self-indulgence that “Canada is the best country in the world”. It smarts for an immigrant like me that others don’t share the same fierce attachment to the country I love and help build.
But the number of those who use Canada as a mere transitional stop-over is evidently much higher than the 21,000 who seek to legally annul any relationship to our homeland.
Several “think tanks” (like the Asia Pacific Foundation) and even the CIA public research department place the retention rate of those admitted to Canada at between 55% and 60%. It is not difficult to see that, given Canada’s proximity to the USA, some migrants venture beyond Canadian borders in search of more rewarding opportunities.
Thoughtful Immigration policies must, of necessity, however, concentrate on permanence – retention. How else does a country build for the future?
While the “statistics” just mentioned may startle some, at the very least they show that governments cannot invent policies in a vacuum. They need partners to provide real data on economic need and social conditions for successful integration.
That means jobs and support networks for new arrivals into our environment. But it must also mean the availability of people with the required skills and desire to practice them here. They do not fall from the skies like manna from heaven.
Or do they? The Brexit vote is making the permanence of hundreds of thousands of Europeans (primarily from Italy, Poland and Portugal) in England rather precarious. 250, 000 Italians in the construction and restaurant industries, who made their way into Britain over the last 10 years because Canada’s discriminatory language requirements removed us from their list of options, may now be on the move again.
Those two sectors of the economy are already straining under a labour shortage. A document made available to the Corriere Canadese, by a union official on March 2, lists eight (8) non-governmental infrastructure projects, at various stages of the development process, that will come to market in this calendar year.
Total value: $ 10.145 Billion. Direct jobs potential 14,000. That is in addition to the on-going demand generated by the current economic dynamics. It does not consider the needs or the impact of Federal or Provincial Infrastructure projects that may be announced in the upcoming budgets.
One Union business manager told the Corriere, “where are we going to get the labour? Contractors are already poaching each other’s staff – some of them ’visa-overstays’. Just a small number of our sub-contractors can absorb 3,000 new workers tomorrow”.
Where to recruit them? A better analysis of the “push-pull” factors of immigration might help. Southern Italy for example, long a supplier of stable immigrants to Canada, is under-going a period of elevated levels of unemployment – 55% among educated and trained Millenials.
These have friends and family among Southern Ontario’s 800,000 strong Italian community. General Contractors and Restaurateurs are clamouring for the authority to recruit them…in the thousands, for jobs that go begging to be filled.
Interestingly, Library of Parliament Research Branch has this to say about post-war Italian immigration: 90% came because of family or business sponsorship; 97% stayed permanently.
Yet, the most recent Immigration Canada statistic show that Canada landed only 80 Italians under its Express Entry program (for Ontario).
The President’s revised executive order on foreign travel from certain countries may continue to be a detriment to those who have come to the United States under legal circumstances.
At Niagara University, a regional and global institution, we currently have students and faculty from 38 countries. It should come as no surprise that we stand in solidarity with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and numerous other organizations which released statements questioning the effects of the order signed by President Trump.
Our position is founded on three basic pillars. First; on a cultural-educational front, the contributions of international students and faculty are in keeping with our vision to prepare global citizens of the world. Through their presence and scholarship, they add value to the learning experiences at our campus. They bring a global perspective to the university and the academic environment it provides.
Second; the economic impact that international students bring to American universities transcends the classroom walls and campus perimeter. It is significant.
According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the international student enrollment at Niagara contributes CDN$18.76 million, part of the university’s CDN$301.5 million annual economic impact in the region.
There are currently 662 international students from 38 countries enrolled at Niagara, resulting in an additional 88 jobs. For every seven international students enrolled, three U.S. jobs are created and supported by spending in higher education and associated sectors.
Niagara is the largest post-secondary institution in western New York. State-wide, 114,000 international students make a CDN$5.25 billion contribution and support 46,854 jobs.
Nationally, the presence of international students studying at colleges and universities contribute CDN $42.88 billion and deliver 400,812 jobs to the U.S. economy.
Third; at Niagara, our mission statement, our strategic vision, inspired by and drawn from the founder of the Vincentian order, St. Vincent de Paul has a social-religious mandate. He organized his contemporaries to respond to people’s basic needs with compassion. The legacy of St. Vincent’s work with disaster relief and refugees earned him the title of honorary Secretary of State of France.
Today, more than ever, St. Vincent’s call serves as an inspiration for our staff and students to serve all members of society, from every faith tradition, in local communities and in the larger world.
Hospitality is a virtue. The safety and security of our great nation is a need that can never be compromised, but neither should our role as a country that embraces the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As Pope Francis has said, "Authentic hospitality is a profound Gospel value that nurtures love and is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism."
Our faculty members and administrators will do everything in their power to ensure that we continue to be a welcoming community for all, so that we may facilitate the types of educational and cultural discussions that are meant to take place within the academic environment of a university and our neighbouring institutions.
Father Maher is president of Niagara University, a bi-national institution in upstate New York.