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by Steve Rodgers

Canadian automotive suppliers gaining international respect

One of the recognized truisms of the Canadian automotive industry is that from a manufacturing perspective, we have long punched above our economic weight.

Ever since the auto trade pact was signed in the 1960s, Canada has traditionally produced more vehicles than it has consumed. Historically we have accounted for 7 to 8 per cent of NAFTA automotive sales in Canada but we have produced 16 to 18 per cent of NAFTA vehicle production. This focus on Canadian automotive production has come about as a result of a highly capable workforce, a long-standing commitment to quality, and a manufacturing efficiency and expertise.

Indeed, this has been a hallmark of Canadian automotive suppliers. Today, Canada boasts one of the four largest automotive suppliers in the world in the form of Magna International. Similarly Magna’s ascension as one of the world’s premier automotive suppliers comes as a result of a commitment to manufacturing excellence. If you look at many of the innovations that Magna brought to the automotive industry, such as the role formed alternator pulley, single piece flex plate, serpentine belt drive system, foam-in-place place seating, stow-n-go seats, and hydroformed truck frames, they are all based on manufacturing expertise. Magna is certainly not alone in this world-class capability and expertise; others such as Martinrea, Linamar and the ABC Group have proven to be formidable global competitors boasting of world-class manufacturing expertise. As our Canadian suppliers have continued to move up the food chain, taking responsibility for ever larger systems and modules, we have reached the point where companies such as Magna International are actually producing the complete vehicle for their OEM customer.

Today Canadian automotive suppliers compete in virtually every one of the major automotive production hotbeds including China, India, Thailand, Eastern and Western Europe and Russia, Brazil and of course all across the United States and Mexico. In 2012, the Canadian automotive supplier industry, providing components to the world’s top 15 automotive OEMs, accounted for about 83,500 employees in Canada and produced goods representing almost $23.5 billion. Almost 80 per cent of this production was exported and not just to the United States and Mexico. Canadian automotive suppliers export components to virtually every major automotive region in the world. Tooling produced in Canadian facilities continues to be utilized in manufacturing facilities from Brazil to Thailand and many countries in between. 

Canadian suppliers have not just restricted themselves to the traditional manufacturing capabilities. Indeed Canada has established a growing presence and is gaining international respect for its capabilities with respect to their connected car that ultimately leads to the autonomous car. Today’s car boasts more than 40 microprocessors on average, running more than 100 million lines of code. This is more code and more processors than are found in a stealth fighter jet. Companies such as QNX in Ottawa are involved in virtually every major global vehicle platform and they are leading the way in the development of advanced software systems. At the start of the 2014 model year only three vehicles in the world boasted wireless onboard cell phone charging. These vehicles included the Jeep Cherokee, Toyota Avalon and the SsangYong Chairman. Two of these vehicles feature Canadian technology from Leggat and Platt in Tecumseh, ON. Advance Canadian connected car and telematics technologies have won awards around the world for both innovation and manufacturing expertise.

As we move forward and continue to be challenged by the strong onward march of a truly global automotive industry, we often want to question whether a country such as Canada with only 35 million people can compete with countries such as China and India with populations well over one billion. But as I look at our manufacturing capabilities and expertise, examine the academic footprint of our universities and colleges and government organizations such as NRC CanMet and the National Research Council automotive group, and as we purvey our many other areas of expertise, I’m convinced that Canada can remain a viable and competitive manufacturing threat around the world. Indeed, innovation and manufacturing excellence will be our lasting legacy. SMT

Steve Rodgers is president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA).


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