Canadian economy shifting to a lower gear in 2018

Ottawa – While the Canadian economy was firing on all cylinders in 2017, the pace of growth tapered off toward the end of the year. The slowdown is expected to continue this year, with the economy forecast to expand by a more sustainable 1.9 per cent, down from 3.0 per cent in 2017, according to The Conference Board of Canada’s latest Canadian Outlook.

“Rising interest rates, moderating employment growth, and high household debt will force consumers to reduce their pace of spending this year,” said Matthew Stewart, director, National Forecasting, The Conference Board of Canada. “The hope that trade and business investment would pick up the slack is unlikely to come to fruition as uncertainty surrounding NAFTA negotiations and the possibility of increased tariffs are challenging businesses and exporters alike.”


  • Following an increase of 3.0 per cent in 2017, Canada’s economy is forecast to grow by 1.9 per cent in 2018.
  • While household spending will remain the main driver of economic growth, the pace of spending is expected to ease significantly.
  • Employment growth is expected to slow to 232,000 jobs, down from an 336,900 in 2017.

Tighter labour markets and increased retirements from baby boomers will lead to much slower employment growth in 2018. Job gains are expected to slow to 232,000 jobs, down from an impressive 336,900 last year. On a more positive note, a tight labour market will help support wage growth which could help cushion the impact of rising interest rates.

While household spending is expected to continue to be the main driver of economic growth, the pace of spending is forecast to ease significantly as high debt levels, slowing disposable income growth, and rising interest rates force consumers to dial back their spending. Purchases of durable goods are expected to bear the brunt of the slowdown after several years of consumers ramping up purchases, much of it funded on credit. Overall, real personal consumption is expected to increase by 2.4 per cent, down from 3.5 per cent last year.

A variety of factors point to further housing market cooling in 2018. Topping the list is the imposition of a new “stress test” imposed on mortgage borrowers by federal regulators. This reduces the maximum mortgage for which borrowers can qualify for, and it will reduce housing demand, particularly for higher-priced units. Rising interest rates, moderating employment growth, and high household debt will further limit consumers’ housing aspirations. This will be partially offset by stronger population gains resulting from higher immigration targets. Housing starts will ease to roughly 213,200 units this year from 219,700 units in 2017.

Despite strong demand in the U.S. and a competitively low Canadian dollar, exports will continue to underperform in 2018. For the third year in a row, non-energy merchandise exports are on track to record almost no growth, while exports in the wood products, aerospace, and automotive sectors are all forecast to decline for the second year in a row. Exporters are facing numerous challenges and increased uncertainty surrounding the outcome of NAFTA negotiations and the possibility of increased tariffs. Recent Conference Board research found that real GDP would lose half a percentage point of growth in the year following the termination of NAFTA, but the impact could be larger if business confidence or foreign investment to Canada is undermined by the loss of free trade.

Early indications point to another disappointing year for business investment. Despite a more positive outlook among businesses for profits and sales, companies are indicating that they plan to keep overall investment flat. Businesses may be holding back due to trade uncertainty and may also find Canada to be a less competitive destination for investment considering the large American tax cuts passed at the end of last year. Real business investment spending is forecast to expand by just 1.0 per cent in 2018, down from growth of 2.3 per cent in 2017.

Statistics Canada says manufacturing sales fell 1.0 % in January

Ottawa – Canadian manufacturing sales fell 1.0 per cent in January, with the decline led by the motor vehicle, aerospace and primary metal industries, Statistics Canada said Friday.

Economists had expected a drop of 0.8 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters.

Manufacturing sales for January totalled $54.9 billion as 14 of the 21 industries moved lower, while overall manufacturing sales in volume terms declined 1.1 per cent.

CIBC economist Royce Mendes said Canadian factories had a rough start to the year.

“The survey suggests that GDP data could look soggy to open the new year,” Mendes wrote in a brief note to clients.

“Factory shipments could feel some benefit as U.S. tax cuts make their way through the American economy, but already elevated inventory levels and capacity constraints could limit the gains.”

The Bank of Canada noted that fourth-quarter growth was weaker than it expected when it said it would keep its key interest rate target on hold earlier this month.

The central bank also said recent trade policy developments represented a key source of uncertainty for the Canadian and global outlooks.

Royal Bank senior economist Nathan Janzen said recent Canadian economic data has been more mixed compared with a year ago when the economy was growing at an unsustainably strong clip.

“Reports on retail and wholesale trade sales next week will provide further clarification on the pace of early-2018 growth but for now we think the data is still consistent with further, albeit more modest, improvement at a close to two per cent rate in Q1,” Janzen said.

The drop in Canadian factory sales came as sales of motor vehicles fell 8.0 per cent to $4.9 billion, following two consecutive monthly increases.

Meanwhile, production in the aerospace product and parts industry fell 9.5 per cent to $1.6 billion, while the primary metal industry dropped 2.8 per cent to $4.1 billion.

Offsetting the drop, sales in the petroleum and coal product industry climbed 6.5 per cent to $6.1 billion, while chemical manufacturing sales rose 6.1 per cent to $4.7 billion.

Canadians see possible signal U.S. ready to accept NAFTA compromise

OTTAWA  – American trade officials are showing newfound interest in a Canadian proposal for revamping NAFTA’s automotive provisions as the U.S. seeks to swiftly conclude renegotiations of the continental free trade pact.

And that’s being taken in some quarters as a sign that the U.S. may realize it will have to settle for making only modest progress on a handful of American demands if there’s to be any hope of concluding a deal within the next few weeks.

At the conclusion of the last round of negotiations in Mexico earlier this month, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said “time is running very short” to get a deal before “political headwinds” – Mexico’s presidential election in July, American midterms in November and provincial elections in Ontario and Quebec – start to complicate matters.

For the first time, Lighthizer made public his hope of completing a NAFTA deal – including the legally required six-month congressional consultation period and ratification vote – before a new Congress gets sworn in next January.

That would mean reaching a deal with Canada and Mexico during or very soon after the next round of talks, which have not yet been officially scheduled but are expected to start on April 8 in Washington and last at least 10 days.

Canadian government officials are privately skeptical that a deal can be concluded at such a breakneck pace, particularly since Mexico’s presidential campaign officially kicks off at the end of this month and no candidate can afford to be perceived as conceding anything to U.S. President Donald Trump, who is political kryptonite in that country.

They believe the only way it can happen is if the U.S. drops many of its controversial demands and accepts modest changes in just a few key areas _ in particular on automobiles, which Canadian officials have believed from the outset would be the key to a successful renegotiation.

Lighthizer himself listed autos earlier this month as one of three priorities for the U.S.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, concurs with the Canadian assessment.

“I would agree with all of that,” he said in an interview.

And the fact that USTR officials finally agreed to meet with him two weeks ago leads Volpe to suspect that they may have come to the same conclusion.

“That was a good meeting. It gave me hope,” he said, noting that U.S. trade officials had not accepted an invitation to meet with him during the first six months of the negotiations.

“If you look at the fact USTR was willing to receive me in Washington for a real meeting, it is the best signal to me that we could be in a phase where we get over the hump.”

In the meeting, Volpe said the Americans reiterated their opening demand _ that vehicles must have 85 per cent North American content and 50 per cent American content to be eligible for duty-free movement across the three countries, up from the current NAFTA requirement of 62.5 per cent North American content _ which has been rejected as a non-starter by Canada, Mexico and the industry.

But he said they were also “intellectually curious” about Canada’s counter-proposal.

Canada has proposed that NAFTA’s list of traceable components that go into cars and trucks be updated to include not just things like steel, aluminum and plastics but also intellectual property – like the software behind the computerized parts that are now integral to most vehicles and destined to become even more so as the industry embarks on an era of self-driving automobiles.

That would favour the U.S., Volpe said, because of the concentration of high-tech electronics clusters in that country.

When Canada first put its proposal on the NAFTA table back in late January, Lighthizer rejected it, predicting it would lead to more Asian content in vehicles – precisely the opposite of what the U.S. was trying to achieve.

But Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union that represents Canadian auto workers, said his read is that the proposal “wasn’t offensive to anybody” and that all three countries could live with it.

Nevertheless, he doubted that it provides sufficient basis to strike even a scaled-down deal by next month, unless Canada and Mexico both “capitulate” on other unpalatable U.S. demands. And that, he predicted, is “not going to happen,” particularly not with Mexico embarking on its presidential campaign in two weeks.

“My guess is this thing isn’t going anywhere,” Dias said.

The U.S. has proposed a number of so-called poison pills that Canada and Mexico have flatly rejected, including: elimination of NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanisms; a sunset clause that would automatically terminate NAFTA unless it was renewed by all three countries every five years; and Buy American provisions to limit the number of American public contracts that could be awarded to Canadian and Mexican companies.

The U.S. has also demanded an end to Canada’s supply management system, which limits imports on milk, cheese and poultry, and sets minimum prices. Some trade experts suspect the Trudeau government may be willing to accept a small increase in U.S. dairy imports, similar to what was agreed to in the original Trans-Pacific Partnership, before Trump withdrew the U.S. from that trade deal.

U.S. applies second wave of duties against Canadian softwood lumber

The U.S. is expected to announce preliminary anti-dumping duties with an average rate of around 10 per cent, which will be added to the existing duties announced in April



MONTREAL—Canada’s softwood lumber industry is bracing for a second wave of U.S. duties expected to come Monday that could put further pressure on producers, particularly smaller ones, to cut jobs.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced in April preliminary countervailing duties against five companies ranging between three and 24 per cent, with other producers facing a tariff of 19.88 per cent.

This time, the U.S. is expected to announce preliminary anti-dumping duties with an average rate of around 10 per cent, which would be added on to the previous levy.

Analyst Paul Quinn of RBC Capital Markets believes the U.S. will play hardball and impose high anti-dumping rates in order to push Canada to agree to a deal before negotiations on NAFTA begin in August.

“Anti-dumping (duties) is a way to scare the Canadians and try to force them to get something done,” he said from Vancouver.

Canada’s share of the U.S. softwood lumber market was 27 per cent in May, down from 31 per cent a year earlier, according to monthly Canadian government reports. That represented a $165-million loss in exports for the month, including $105 million in B.C. and $18 million in Quebec.

Final duty rates have been lower than preliminary tariffs in the past. But Quinn said that could change this time because the U.S. Lumber Coalition is pushing for a tough response to the Canadian government’s $867-million financial support for the industry, mainly through loans and loan guarantees.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Ottawa was “very prudent” in developing the program and wouldn’t say if more industry funding will be coming in the wake of the second round of duties.

“We will react to market conditions in the reality of the moment,” he said Thursday. “We are committed to ensure that our forestry sector is able to adapt to changing environments.”

The ripple effects of the first round of softwood lumber duties are already being felt. Resolute Forest Products has cut shifts at seven sawmills, and there are fears other companies could follow suit.

The Conference Board of Canada has said U.S. softwood lumber duties will cost Canadian producers $1.7 billion a year and result in the reduction of 2,200 jobs.

Resolute spokesman Seth Kursman wouldn’t say if the Montreal-based company will pursue another round of layoffs.

“It wouldn’t be fair for me to speculate and guess and in doing so create angst among our people and the communities in which we work and live,” he said.

Analyst Hamir Patel of CIBC World Markets predicts Resolute will face the highest preliminary anti-dumping duty of the four producers set to receive their own tariffs. All other companies will get a weighted average duty, similar to when the last round of softwood duties were announced.

Countervailing duties target what the U.S. considers unfair subsidies, while anti-dumping tariffs go after the alleged selling of softwood below market value.

Wildfire problem will grow in coming decades

The massive wildfires that burned in California, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, British Columbia and other parts of North America in 2017 in many cases exhibited a disturbing trend: a marked increase in the amount of area burned.

That trend will continue in coming decades across the Western U.S. and northwestern Canada, though not uniformly, according to a recent study. UA professor Don Falk and Thomas Kitzberger from the Universidad Nacional del Comahue in Argentina, who started working on the research as a visiting scholar at the UA, were co-investigators on the study that also included Thomas Swetnam from the UA and Leroy Westerling of the University of California, Merced.

While it may have been an exceptional year in some respects, Falk’s and Kitzberger’s predictions suggest that years like 2017 are likely to become more common over time. States in the interior Western U.S., in particular, may be faced with large increases in total wildfire area burned, potentially beyond anything that has been experienced in the past.

Their research paper, “Direct and indirect climate controls predict heterogeneous early-mid 21st century wildfire burned area across western and boreal North America,” was published in the journal PLOS ONE in December as the 2017 fire season was ending. The results project where the greatest increases in area burned are likely to occur across the Western U.S. and Canada in coming decades, suggesting that large fires such as the recent ones in southern and northern California may become more common.

Read more at: problem will grow in coming decades

Wildfire problem will grow in coming decades

Projected change in annual area burned for the period 2010–2039, with red colors indicating areas with the greatest increase in area burned annually in wildfires, and dark blue the least. Credit: University of Arizona

A Model to Measure and Project Fire Activity

“We used 34 years of climate data to calibrate area burned in 1,500 grid cells across western North America, so we could capture the different ways that seasonal climate regulates fire in different regions,” said Falk, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The key measurement, annual area burned, is a combination of fire size, frequency and variability from year to year. Area burned does not necessarily indicate fire severity, the ecological effects in a burned area.

Taking into account geographic variation, the study data focused on fire occurrence, seasonal temperatures and snowpack. The seasonal climate variables that turned out to be driving the amount of area burned were summer temperatures during fire season, spring temperatures and rainfall, and winter temperatures. Winter and spring conditions regulate snowpack, which can delay the onset of the fire season.

The team built a statistical model for wildfire area burned in each of the grid cells studied, and then tested it with data for actual area burned since 2010 to validate their predictions. It did not project the extent of area burned beyond the mid-21st century, as climate and vegetation changes become more uncertain later in the century.

Findings for western and northern North America show that about half the states and provinces are projected to have a large increase—five or more times the current levels—in total wildfire area burned. Others may see smaller increases, indicating there is no “one-size-fits-all” model. Increases in area burned are unevenly distributed across the study area, with the strongest increases projected in the interior western region.

Wildfire problem will grow in coming decades
Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed in the Thomas Fire, which is estimated to have a total cost of more than $180 billion. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Heads-Up for Land Management

“Ultimately, this means that the large fire seasons of recent years, such as the one just ending, are likely to occur more frequently, affecting ecosystems, communities and public safety,” Falk said. “These will be billion-dollar fires. We’re just not ready for fire impacts of this kind, including post-fire effects from flooding after fire.”

The total cost of the 2017 fires in California alone is projected to exceed $180 billion. This includes not only the immediate costs of firefighting, but also the much larger costs of landscape rehabilitation; medical and hospital costs; insurance losses and the costs of replacing thousands of homes and other buildings; lost economic productivity from the destruction of businesses; repair and replacement of key infrastructure such as roads, power lines and dams; and weeks of lost income by employees.

Across the U.S., public land managing agencies are being stretched to their limits by the current scale of wildfire. The U.S. Forest Service spends more than half of its entire budget on wildfire response, leaving little for other key elements of its mission such as recreation, ecosystem restoration, research and public education.

Knowing about future regional variation in the projected annual area burned can help land managers and policy makers prepare for the possibility of extremely large fire years. Falk pointed out that seasonal climate changes also are having the effect of making the fire season longer, so there is additional time for more acreage to burn. In years when seasonal climate drives lengthy fire seasons, fire management resources may be stretched to the limit.

“Wildfires act as a multiplier of other forces such as climate change, exposing more and more areas not only to the immediate effects of fire, but also to the resulting cascade of ecological, hydrological, economic and social consequences,” Falk said. “We hope that this research will be a wake-up call to public agencies and legislatures at all levels of government that the problem is not going to get any smaller in coming decades.

“If anything, we need a serious, fact-based national dialogue about how to sustain our forests and woodlands through smart management and policy.”

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GE’s Giant Wind Turbines Will Have Rotors as Long as Football Fields

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 GE Renewable Energy has announced plans to build the Haliade-X, the biggest, most powerful offshore wind turbine that the world has ever seen. Standing at 853 ft., the turbine will be 300 feet taller than the Washington Monument.

The turbine will have a 12 MW direct-drive generator, and be able to produce 45% more energy than turbines currently on the market. The plan will take a significant investment from GE, which will plug more than 400 million dollars into the turbine’s development over the next three to five years.

The colossal turbine’s rotors will be designed and manufactured by LM Wind Power out of Denmark. The carbon hybrid blades will be 107-meters long, or 351 feet which is only nine feet shorter than a football field.

Each one of these machines will generate enough energy to power up to 5,000 U.S. homes. The hope is to create wind farms that will power up to 300,000 homes. It’s actually enough power to cover 1 million European households, just a side note on average U.S. energy consumption.

The diameter of the rotor is 722 ft. and the blade sweep will cover a surface of 410,000 sq feet — sticking with the football comparison, that’s the equivalent to the area of seven football fields.

The industry is interested for a number of reasons, namely the fact that more powerful turbines mean wind farms with fewer machines. It’s cheaper from a capital expense point of view, and it reduces risk in the installation process. It will also translate to less maintenance and simplify operations. According to GE, the design should make offshore wind projects more profitable and lower the cost of electricity.

The company hopes to ship the first Haliade-X as soon as 2021.

U.S. cabinet members say Canada, Mexico could escape new tariffs

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reiterated President Trump’s position that if a NAFTA deal can be reached Canada and Mexico will be exempted from new metals tariffs. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross voiced a similar sentiment

“The president indicated that if we can work something out with Canada and Mexico they will be exempted,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, speaking about sparing the U.S.’s NAFTA partners from punishing steel and aluminium tariffs if a new North American pact can be agreed upon.

WASHINGTON—Two members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Cabinet suggested Wednesday that Canada and Mexico might escape new tariffs on steel and aluminum, a potential bargaining chip in North American trade talks that heeds the ‘surgical approach“ advocated by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“The president indicated that if we can work something out with Canada and Mexico they will be exempted. It’s not inconceivable that others could be exempted on a similar basis,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters. He said earlier on CNBC that the president has “indicated a degree of flexibility.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration was “definitely going to end up” with the across-the-board tariffs Trump is seeking—25 per cent on steel imports, 10 per cent on aluminum. “But, again, there will be a mechanism where, to the extent that the president wants to give waivers, the president can do that,” Mnuchin told Fox Business.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was “on pace for an announcement” on the trade penalties “at the end of this week.”

Trump has said the tariffs are needed to preserve the American industries and protect national security, but he also has tried to use them as leverage in the current talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, negotiated under President Bill Clinton.

“We’re cautiously optimistic on NAFTA,” Mnuchin said. “This is part of those discussions. But assuming we get the new NAFTA deal done, they will be exempted.”

White House adviser Jared Kushner and staff from the State Department and National Security Council planned to meet Wednesday with Mexico’s president and foreign minister in Mexico City.

Congressional Republicans and industry groups, warning of the economic fallout, are pressing the president to narrow his plan, but he appears unmoved. “Trade wars aren’t so bad,” he said Tuesday, adding that the U.S. has long been “mistreated” in trade deals.

Hours later, Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn, who has opposed the tariffs, announced his plans to depart the White House.

Ryan, R-Wis., called for a “more surgical approach” that would help avert a trade war. Added Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: “We are urging caution,” McConnell said.

Asked about the calls from those leaders, Ross said the White House was “trying to do a surgical approach.”

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who opposes the tariffs, said after meeting Tuesday with White House chief of staff John Kelly that the administration was willing to consider his views. “Absolutely. There’s an openness now,” Perdue said.

“I think there’s been a step back,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “I don’t think he’s reconsidering, but I think he’s trying to figure out what his best step is forward.”

But those views sounded more like wishful thinking after Trump’s news conference with Sweden’s prime minister, when Trump reiterated his intentions.

Trump has been keenly aware of how the tariffs may play in a March 13 special House election in western Pennsylvania, part of the steel belt, White House officials have said. The president is headlining a Saturday rally in support of Rick Saccone, who is battling Democrat Conor Lamb in the Republican-leaning district.

The dispute over tariffs has exposed a rift between advocates of free trade, who have long dominated GOP circles, and a president who has railed against China and pushed for more protectionist trade policies.

Internally, White House officials who oppose the tariffs have urged the administration to limit the countries that would be affected and to impose time limits. This would help the president say he delivered on his promise and still try to avoid possible negative consequences, said Stephen Moore, a former campaign adviser and now an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Republicans in Congress and within Trump’s administration say industries and their workers who need steel and aluminum for their products would be hurt by Trump’s threatened tariffs. They say Americans will face higher costs for new cars, appliances and buildings if the president follows through on his threat and other nations retaliate.

Business leaders are mobilizing against the tariffs. The Aluminum Association, a trade group representing 114 member companies with more than 700,000 U.S. jobs, told Trump in a letter Tuesday that it was “deeply concerned” about the effects of the planned tariffs and urged him to seek alternatives such as targeting China and other countries with a history of circumventing trade rules.

Ryan said Trump was correct to focus on the problem of the dumping of steel in the U.S. at lower prices. But he said the administration’s approach was “a little too broad and more prone to retaliation.”

President Donald Trump signs report rebuking own views on trade, Canada

Washington, DC —Donald Trump’s views on trade have been clobbered in a report released by the White House —and signed by none other than the president of the United States himself.

The self-rebuke includes some of his talking points about Canada.

The president regularly bemoans a trade deficit with the northern neighbour and was complaining again on Monday about Canadian trade, saying: “We lose a lot with Canada. People don’t know it. Canada’s very smooth. They have you believe that it’s wonderful. And it is, for them. Not wonderful for us.”

But a different story is told in the newly released 2018 White House “Economic Report of the President” —an annual document prepared by Trump’s own team, in which Trump’s own signature appears below the introductory foreword.

It contradicts a number of trade statements and policies already articulated by Trump.

One example involves the supposed trade deficit with Canada. Trump keeps insisting it exists, but the document he signed states Canada is among the few countries in the world with whom the U.S. runs a surplus.

The documents states that in three different places. For example, it says, “All countries show a (U.S.) services surplus offsetting a goods deficit, with the U.S. running a net bilateral surplus only with Canada and the United Kingdom.”

And again: “The United States ran a trade surplus of $2.6 billion with Canada on a balance-of-payments basis.”

And once again: “The United States has free trade agreements … with a number of countries —some of which represent net trade surpluses for the United States (Canada and Singapore), and some of which represent deficits (Mexico and South Korea).”

There’s more.

The report also contradicts the president by saying trade has helped the U.S. economy grow, that economies are shifting away from manufacturing, that foreign trade is increasingly important, that America has a good record of success in international dispute panels at the WTO, and that reworking trade agreements is no way to address a trade deficit.

“Trade and economic growth are strongly and positively correlated,” says the White House report.

The report does concede that trade deals create winners and losers in a country. But it says the states along the border have been the biggest winners in NAFTA. It concludes that, in general, trade creates jobs and wealth, and cites a study that every percentage point increase in trade-to-GDP ratio raises per capita income by between 0.5 and 2 per cent.

“(This) is a stunning rebuke of … the president and his trade team,” Scott Lincicome of the pro-market Cato Institute tweeted after the report was released last week.

The 563-page document was produced by Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. He appointed the council.

Meanwhile, there are reports in U.S. media that Trump is looking to promote trade hawk Peter Navarro to a more prominent position in the White House.

GM extending a cutback in car production at Oshawa plant

Oshawa, Ont. – General Motors Co. is reportedly extending a cutback in car production at its plant in Oshawa, Ont., into April and May before it begins a second shift to produce pickup trucks later this year.

The automaker had halted production of Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala cars for three weeks in January and brought the plant back online on one shift instead of the previous two shifts for the rest of the first quarter.

But The Globe and Mail, citing a memo it says Unifor sent to workers at the plant, reported Wednesday that GM has now extended the single-shift operation to May 28.

Jennifer Wright, the automaker’s manager of corporate communications, told The Canadian Press in an email that current job levels are “anticipated to be retained.”

She said production of the Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks began earlier this month and the company plans to “ramp up production over the coming months.”

The move comes amid a continuing slump in sales of passenger cars generally in North America and specifically in the U.S. market for the two cars that are built in Oshawa.

Super wood could replace steel: New process could make wood as strong as titanium alloys but lighter and cheaper


Engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) have found a way to make wood more than 10 times times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys.

“This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher,” said Liangbing Hu of UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and the leader of the team that did the research, to be published on February 8, 2018 in the journal Nature. “This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It’s also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive.” Hu is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.

“It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature,” said Teng Li, the co-leader of the team and Samuel P. Langley Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at UMD’s Clark School. His team measured the dense wood’s mechanical properties. “It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter. It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.”

The team also tested the new wood material and natural wood by shooting bullet-like projectiles at it. The projectile blew straight through the natural wood. The fully treated wood stopped the projectile partway through.

“Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower-growing but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings,” Hu said.

“The paper provides a highly promising route to the design of lightweight, high performance structural materials, with tremendous potential for a broad range of applications where high strength, large toughness and superior ballistic resistance are desired, ” said Huajian Gao, a professor at Brown University who was not involved in the study. “It is particularly exciting to note that the method is versatile for various species of wood and fairly easy to implement.”

“This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings — any application where steel is used,” Hu said.

“The two-step process reported in this paper achieves exceptionally high strength, much beyond what [is] reported in the literature,” said Zhigang Suo, a professor of mechanics and materials at Harvard University, also not involved with the study. “Given the abundance of wood, as well as other cellulose-rich plants, this paper inspires imagination.”

“The most outstanding observation, in my view, is the existence of a limiting concentration of lignin, the glue between wood cells, to maximize the mechanical performance of the densified wood. Too little or too much removal lower the strength compared to a maximum value achieved at intermediate or partial lignin removal. This reveals the subtle balance between hydrogen bonding and the adhesion imparted by such polyphenolic compound. Moreover, of outstanding interest, is the fact that that wood densification leads to both, increased strength and toughness, two properties that usually offset each other,” said Orlando J. Rojas, a professor at Aalto University in Finland.

Hu’s research has explored the capacities of wood’s natural nanotechnology. They previously made a range of emerging technologies out of nanocellulose related materials: (1) super clear paper for replacing plastic; (2) photonic paper for improving solar cell efficiency by 30%; (3) a battery and a supercapacitor out of wood; (4) a battery from a leaf; (5) transparent wood for energy efficient buildings; (6) solar water desalination for drinking and specifically filtering out toxic dyes. These wood-based emerging technologies are being commercialized through a UMD spinoff company, Inventwood LLC.