By Michael Ouellette
It wasn’t long ago that some experts were calling it curtains for Ontario’s automotive sector. Plants owned by Detroit 3 OEMs were losing models to facilities south of the border, shifts were being cut and closures were on everyone’s mind. Dark clouds were gathering and the automotive parts sector—a major employer and economic contributor—was feeling the pinch. Experts were starting to recommend diversifying away from automotive-centric work.
If you had told everyone in advance that we were also about to undergo a year-long pandemic, replete with all the fun and frivolities of lockdowns, sputtering supply chains and cancelled orders, many may have simply closed up shop in despair.
What a difference one year makes. Instead of looking at a rash of
closures, Ontario is now the North American focal point for the most exciting and important automotive development since the invention of the combustion engine.
Electric vehicle (EV) technology has been on the bleeding edge of development for a while now. And even though we have seen market entries in this vehicle class from all the major automakers—and a few start-ups to boot—the vehicles still require significant development to improve useability and profitability. On the manufacturing side, plants require significant retooling to produce these vehicles, and automakers are just now starting to develop platforms that will be the foundation for multiple iterations of EV models.
That valuable R&D and production will now take place predominantly in Canada, and everyone will be a winner, not just the OEMs.
Canada will quickly ramp up EV research and manufacturing expertise, becoming a critical node in the global automotive landscape. Access to our machine shops and mould makers will be highly coveted as they become world class at manufacturing the new types of parts required in an EV universe, and at solving the inevitable production headaches (one of our specialties) that will hamper other jurisdictions. Finally, the value chain will stretch out to the resources sector, as Canada is home to one of the world’s richest stocks of rare earth raw materials required to produce EV batteries.
The commitment made by the Detroit 3 OEMs likely means many years of stability and growth for Ontario’s automotive sector. But it was the commitment and perseverance of Ontario’s auto sector—augmented by the labour negotiators and backed by the provincial government—that made this a reality. SMT