Automakers lost nearly $300M in the Ambassador Bridge shutdown. Its ripple effect could be costlier.

WINDSOR, ONTARIO – For the first time in nearly a week, border officials reported “no delay” Monday as trucks and cars cruised 1.4 miles across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.

Reopening the bridge after a seven-day Canadian trucker protest in Windsor was “a win” for Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. But economic experts warn the weeklong trade disruption could reverberate in the short- and long-term.

“This has underlined the importance of trade between the two countries, but it has also illustrated the fragility of it,” said Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group.

Related: Whitmer says protests like Ambassador Bridge shutdown ‘will not stand’ if economy is harmed

Carrying $323 million in goods a day—roughly a quarter of the trade between the U.S. and Canada—the Ambassador Bridge is an economic lifeblood to both sides of border.

And the auto industry, which exchanges $12.8 billion in motor vehicles and parts across the Michigan-Canada border annually, felt the immediate pangs of rerouting traffic 70 miles north to the Blue Water Bridge.

Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, Toyota and Honda all cut back on production last week due to supply shortages from the blockade. Some were back up and running Monday, but Toyota plants in Canada, Kentucky, Alabama and West Virginia were still down.

“The market for vehicles is so strong and the supply is so tight that failure to produce a car pretty much means failure to sell a car,” Anderson said.

Auto industry losses neared $300 million from Monday, Feb. 7 through Tuesday, Feb. 15, the Anderson Economic Group estimates, including $144.9 million in lost wages and $155 million in losses to automakers. This was mostly felt in the Detroit-Windsor region but stretched as far as Huntsville, Alabama.

“It is a real loss for automakers, for their investors and for their workers,” Anderson said.

Related: Ambassador Bridge ‘fully open’ after seven-day blockade choked key trade route

Beyond the immediate blow, the lingering effects of the disruption could erode confidence in cross-border trade, said John Taylor, professor of global supply chain management at Wayne State University. For years, Taylor says it could impact long-term decisions on where companies build plants and who to pick as suppliers.

“Anything that reduces the confidence in that system and makes us want to use local suppliers, that has a negative impact on the quality of goods, the variety of goods, the price of goods and so on,” he said.

For some, the blockade underscores why Michigan needs a second link between Detroit and Windsor with the Gordie Howe International Bridge set to open in 2024. Last year, the Cross Border Institute predicted interruptions at the Ambassador Bridge could have “huge economic implications” for trucks carrying 30% of U.S.-Canada trade.

“The long-term impacts go right to the heart of the historic US-Canada trade relationship that has existed for over half a century,” Anderson said. “And this kind of disruption will make companies on both sides of the border ask questions about whether they can rely on interrupted trade across the Detroit River.”

This sort of ripple effect doesn’t have a measurable economic impact, Anderson said, but “that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

Taylor says restoring confidence in international trade is multidimensional and requires existing issues like strained supply chains, a shortage of truck drivers and low numbers of border agents to also be addressed.

Canada’s “national economic crisis” came to an end Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said when officials enforced a court order to break up the demonstration over the weekend. Police arrested 46 people and seized 37 vehicles to restore access to the bridge.

Although traffic is flowing again, Windsor Police Deputy Chief Jason Bellaire says officials remain on high alert to “see if people are going to be trying to repeat this behavior.”

Monday night, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to quell ongoing protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions.

More on MLive:

Canadian judge grants injunction against protesters, signaling end of Ambassador Bridge blockade

Auto plants pause production as Ambassador Bridge blockade continues

Canadian truckers protesting vaccine rule snarl traffic at Michigan border crossings