Live Updates on Trucker Protests: Ontario Court Orders Protesters to Clear Bridge
Blockades at the U.S.-Canada border hampered critical supply flows for the fourth day on Friday, leaving businesses scrambling for materials and shutting down major auto plants from Ontario to Alabama.
The partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing between the countries and a vital conduit for the auto industry, has impacted North American supply chains. Business groups have called on officials to forcibly evict the protesters who were behind the blockades. Some companies have tried to redistribute essential parts between their factories and have looked for other ways to move products.
But others seemed resigned to the closures, saying bypassing the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ont., was simply too expensive or difficult.
Toyota said the disruptions have led to “periodic shutdowns” at its engine plants in West Virginia and Alabama, as well as plants in Canada and Kentucky, and the outages are likely to continue through the weekend. end. Ford Motor reduced capacity at two plants in Windsor and Oakville, also in Ontario, and closed its assembly plant in Ohio.
Other automakers said their assembly lines were working but not at optimal levels.
General Motors production “was operating at relatively normal levels,” the company said on Friday. Stellantis, owner of Jeep, Ram and other brands, said all of its North American plants started up Friday morning but the situation remained “incredibly fluid.”
The disruptions threatened to persist as truckers and members of far-right groups protested vaccination mandates and other pandemic restrictions in Canada and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Canadian and American governments were trying to help businesses get across the border with auto parts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other products. Manufacturers and logistics companies sometimes moved trucks hundreds of miles to bridges and border checkpoints that were still open.
Alternatives to the Ambassador Bridge are limited, Toyota spokeswoman Kelly Stefanich said. Sending shipments through Buffalo and Mackinaw, Michigan, for example, required more drivers and trucks, which were already in short supply.
“We are seeing the trucks starting to move slowly now, which is a good sign,” Ms Stefanich said on Friday.
The protests followed two years of pandemic-related port and factory closures and increased demand for cars and other goods among consumers who cut spending on restaurant meals, travel and other services.
A continuing shortage of semiconductors has also depressed auto production, leaving manufacturers particularly vulnerable to blockades.
“Every hour this continues, the costs go up,” said Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, whose members include Ford, GM and Stellantis. “They need to uphold the law and remove protesters from the road leading to the bridge.”
The production shutdowns will worsen a shortage of new vehicles, which has already driven up prices, IHS Markit, a research firm, warned on Friday.
Some companies that need to ship goods across the border were paying extra to reroute freight through Buffalo, where the crossing remained open — at least for now, said Jennifer Frigger-Latham, vice president of sales and marketing at EMO Trans, a logistics company.
“In today’s market, people are so used to delays and frustrations due to Covid that they are much quicker to react these days and throw money at the problem,” she said. declared.
Canadian authorities allowed certain companies to ship goods through other ports of entry without having to resubmit documents. US customs officers were assisting this effort by adding personnel and controlling the lines at these alternate crossing points.
But finding alternate routes hasn’t always been easy, said Linda Dynes, executive vice president of Canadian operations at Farrow, a century-old customs broker.
She said a crossing in Coutts, Alta., hasn’t been open consistently over the past week. Protesters may attempt to block another between Saskatchewan and North Dakota. And the Peace Bridge connecting Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo could be closed this weekend. On Thursday, protesters blocked the Ottawa airport.
“It seems like every time you find an alternate path it’s blocked, either by a farm vehicle or a truck,” Ms Dynes said.
Domestic spot prices for shipping have tripled in some cases, forcing many businesses to suspend shipments, she added.
These difficulties were compounded by a shortage of truckers. Some business groups had spoken out against vaccine requirements for truckers in Canada and the United States, saying they would make logistical problems worse.
Many trucks are trying to cross a bridge that connects Port Huron, Michigan, to the Canadian city of Sarnia, north of Detroit. But traffic is so heavy that trucks often have to wait hours to cross, Kingston said, adding he’s heard of waits of up to eight hours.
Some manufacturers have moved parts by air freight or even by helicopter. But “air freight isn’t as efficient for large, bulky components,” Kingston said.
He noted that the Ambassador Bridge was designed to accommodate a large number of heavy trucks. Some hazardous materials or other specialized loads cannot otherwise cross.
Automakers and suppliers are also splitting shipments and placing them in smaller trucks and vans, which can pass through a tunnel that remains open between Detroit and Windsor. Officials on both sides of the border have added staff to handle increased commercial traffic, said Neal Belitsky, president of the company that operates the tunnel.
But such measures are costly palliatives, and many companies are simply slowing down production until the blockade ends. “The hope is that it will end soon,” said Dan Hearsch, chief executive of AlixPartners, a consultancy that helps automakers navigate the turmoil.
The situation remained unpredictable, with authorities warning of copycat protests that could paralyze traffic in other places. Ron Greene, vice president of business development at Overhaul, which oversees high-value cargo like electronics and pharmaceuticals, said the company advises truckers to plan alternate routes, keep fuel tanks at least three-quarters full and keep in close contact with dispatchers.
“We don’t know what to expect, if there will be more protests in the United States or Canada,” he said. “Truckers should be aware that they may need to make alternate plans as these things unfold.”