Greg Layson, Automotive News Canada
November 26th, 2020
Imagine the attention that a business card the size of a midsize utility vehicle would grab. That’s precisely what the Canadian auto industry will carry in its collective pocket upon completion of Project Arrow, the first all-Canadian, zero-emission concept vehicle.
It’s a response to a call by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the country to have a zero-emission economy by 2050. Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA), was in the gallery — and inspired — when Trudeau challenged the country in that 2019 throne speech.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t we do our own car? In Canada, we make every single part of a vehicle for about 20 different [automakers]. So, I said, ‘Why don’t we, from stem to stern, build an all-Canadian engineered, supplied, lightweight, zero-emissions vehicle?’
“Let’s show everyone what Canada can do.”
In early 2020, the APMA invited industry stakeholders, including postsecondary institutions, to submit design and engineering proposals for Project Arrow, named after the all-Canadian-made Avro Arrow interceptor aircraft from the 1950s. As a result, 93 Canadian companies have committed to the car, which has entered the engineering phase.
“If you can dream and you have a platform, we have a place for it,” Volpe said.
Participating suppliers are footing the bill for their contribution, said Volpe, who has estimated that a concept vehicle typically costs $1.5 million to $2 million to build.
The cost of developing such a vehicle for production is heftier. Volpe estimated that an automaker would spend about $1 billion developing a new zero-emission vehicle and getting it into production.
NOT A ‘SCIENCE EXPERIMENT’
One of the companies involved in the project is ABC Technologies, headquartered in North York, Ont., northwest of Toronto. CEO Todd Sheppelman said it’s “more than just a science experiment.”
“Nobody’s doing anything to just spend money,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to be part of something larger than ourselves, to really highlight and showcase the capabilities of the Canadian industry. I think a lot of people get the feeling that life only revolves around the 40-mile [70-kilometre] circle around Detroit.
“But Canada’s a heckuva place.”
Sheppelman sees “a lot of eagerness” among small Canadian suppliers and tech companies new to the auto industry “to show they’ve got the goods.”
Volpe and Sheppelman both think now is the time for Canadian suppliers to get serious about electrification. During the recent contract talks between Unifor and the Detroit Three, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles both committed to electric-vehicle production in Ontario. California and British Columbia will ban the sale of internal-combustion vehicles by 2035 and 2040, respectively.
“The world is pushing, really at an increasing pace, to electrification,” Sheppelman said. “As leaders of Tier 1 suppliers, we have to look at this as a long-term play. The momentum is really picking up in electric vehicles.”
‘BEST BUSINESS CARD’
Once complete, the vehicle will tour auto shows, exhibitions and automakers’ headquarters in an effort to showcase what Canadian companies are capable of doing. Volpe called it “the best business card” the Canadian auto industry could ask for.
“Not only am I telling you we can make a car here, we did,” he said. “Look, I’m showing you.”
The goal is to build a prototype and have it on tour by 2022 and also build one that an automaker could mass-produce.
“We have to deliver something that is relevant in the marketplace,” said Sheppelman. “It’s one thing to do a technological exercise, but it’s another to have something that can go into production and excite people.”
Since light trucks and utility vehicles now make up almost 80 per cent of new-vehicle sales, it’s likely no surprise that the winning design concept looks like a utility vehicle.
The successful design team, chosen from three finalists, hails from Carleton University’s School of Industrial Design in Ottawa.
While Project Arrow is a “demonstration project,” Volpe said it could serve as the prototype of a production vehicle.
“We’re not at a production discussion, yet,” the APMA leader said. “If somebody else wants to build the Arrow at volume, I’m all ears.
“If somebody else wants to take all the lessons we learned building the Arrow and turn those into a company that makes things like the Arrow, it’s a bonus we didn’t account for.”