John Irwin, Automotive News Canada
January 5, 2021
The Government of Ontario — eager to attract a new plant from automakers in China — has created an agency to act as a “one-stop shop” for manufacturers scouting places to invest.
Invest Ontario, created in July, is touted by the government as the “central agency for businesses and investors to discover what others from around the province and globe have already realized; that Ontario is a top-tier destination for investment and strategic growth.”
It is designed to be the go-to place for companies looking for places to invest, particularly “anchor” investments that could lead to major hiring. Vic Fedeli, the Ontario economic development minister, told the Financial Post in July that Invest Ontario could make investments in projects itself if needed.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA), said Invest Ontario could prove to be crucial to attracting a Chinese auto manufacturer to Canada, a key goal for Volpe and other industry stakeholders in recent years.
Volpe said he has been working “hand-inhand” with the province to attract such an investment, adding that the creation of Invest Ontario fulfills a request he made to the government.
“We asked for one thing a year ago,” Volpe said during the APMA’s virtual conference in November.
“We said, ‘Could we get an investment agency that is a badge, that is a flag, that says this is the office that you can go to that triages everything, all of those approvals in Ontario?’”
Invest Ontario’s creation “helped us signal to the Chinese [automakers], who are all stateowned enterprises, that [Ontario] is your partner here,” Volpe said.
Chinese automakers have been eyeing the North American market for years. In that time, industry stakeholders including Volpe have been touting Canada as a place for them to build vehicles they will sell in North America, even amid political tensions between the countries.
Several of China’s largest automakers by sales volume, including GAC, Geely, SAIC and BYD, could begin selling vehicles in North America in the coming years, said Joe McCabe, CEO of AutoForecast Solutions LLC, speaking during the APMA conference. McCabe said it was only a matter of time before one of them announces plans to begin producing vehicles in North America.
“We believe the best way is through the north,” McCabe said, adding that Canada would make sense as an entry point into the North American market given the country’s talent base and the government’s recent emphasis on investing in innovation.
Ottawa and Queen’s Park have been involved in this year’s investment plans from the Detroit Three automakers in Canada. The governments are contributing a total of $590 million to Ford Motor Co.’s $1.8-billion plan to transform its Oakville, Ont., facility into an electric-vehicle plant by 2026. The governments were also believed to be at the table for multibillion-dollar investments by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors Co., though no funding commitments were announced as of press time.
New assembly plants in Canada have been rare in recent decades. The most recent plant opening in the country was Toyota Motor Corp.’s Woodstock, Ont., factory in 2008.
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