Doug Firby, Special to The Globe and Mail
February 23, 2021

As much as having “world cars” – built on common platforms for markets everywhere – makes economic sense, there is one big drawback: None is designed specifically for the extremes of Canada.

The world car, in other words, will always be a compromise in a country that has logging roads, temperatures that plunge below -30 and pavement so cold in winter that salt can’t touch it. After all, it’s asking a lot of a vehicle equipped with an air conditioner beefy enough for a Phoenix summer to also have a heater brawny enough for a Whitehorse winter.

Let’s get something straight. Installing a bigger battery, heated seats and a plug-in block heater on a car that’s been designed in California is akin to putting a winter coat on a tropical bird; it might be warmer, but it may not fly.

Canada’s winters are not like a scene from the 2017 movie The Snowman, in which the protagonist walks around with his coat unbuttoned and the snow is packing soft. The mythical Norse god of snow seems to take perverse pleasure in the car-killing cruelty of double-digit sub-zero temperatures, salt-defying ice on pavement and gravel that’ll crack a windshield the day you drive your spanking new SUV off the dealer’s lot.

I’m talking about you, Winnipeg. And you too, Saskatoon. And let’s not forget about Ottawa, Quebec City and St. John’s, either.

Automakers’ cold-testing facilities seem to focus on whether the motor will start or whether the doors will freeze shut. What, a besieged Canadian asks, about comfort, convenience and durability?

There is also another important dimension to a truly Canadian car, says Colin Dhillon, chief technical officer at the Automobile Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA), and the man behind the all-Canadian, zero-emission Project Arrow concept car.

“Canada has its own culture,” Dhillon says. “We’ve got to make sure the design of the vehicle exudes that.”

The Project Arrow prototype, conceived in 2020 by four Carleton University industrial-design students, was a response to an invitation to universities from the APMA. Devised for Canada’s four seasons, it has an SUV form, with all-wheel drive and autonomous features designed to work in the snow, Dhillon says. But it has more than that. Its broad stance is meant to pay homage to the Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge in the First World War, Dhillon says, and its sharp angles are intended to evoke the rocky Canadian Shield.

One other feature that puts this car at the technological forefront is in how it would use biometric technology to detect whether a driver is unwell. If a driver’s facial expressions, drooping eyelids or other biometrics signal illness, heart attack or impairment, the vehicle would issue an alert first, then call for assistance and ultimately bring the car to a safe stop if needed. This “caregiver” function makes it distinctly Canadian, Dhillon said. “Project Arrow will be the global leader in a vehicle as a caregiver.”

Another type of caregiving was top of mind for an ad hoc panel of Canadian drivers who were asked what they’d like to see in a Canadian car. This was a random sampling of drivers, most of whom commute daily to a variety of jobs. These views come from drivers who have unromantic notions of their cars as a necessary part of modern life. Their notion of caregiving had more to do with comfort and convenience. Here is a sampling of optional equipment that they think should be made standard:

Besides these, here are some more common-sense features for Canadian winters:

Sure, some of these features will add to the sticker price of some cars. But if our panel is at all representative of Canadian drivers, most will happily pay a little extra for these must-haves.

Read the full article here.