Flavio Volpe (Contributor), Toronto Star
November 6th, 2020
Its no secret that I love cars.
I like things with wheels, motors and sinewy designs that cheat the wind and stir the soul. I like cars that connect with each other and drive on their own. I love cars that take families on tours of fall colours, and cars that barrel through a winter storm like it’s a gentle breeze. I love cars that do big things, but do that work in silence. All of them, a technology nerd’s dream.
Every car made today has more lines of code than a Boeing 787, more moving parts than an RCAF F-18, and more technology in its front bumper than the fanciest phone in your pocket. In so many cases, these vehicles are designed, crafted, engineered and built by over 140,000 passionate car people right here in Ontario. Our export-oriented automotive industry is some of the best evidence available that we have built a major 21st-century economy.
For almost two years, Canada wrestled with Donald Trump in a tough set of NAFTA renegotiations no one asked for. After a rough start in automotive talks, Team Canada negotiated a requirement to source more content locally for the first time in 25 years. That means more of the parts, systems like sensors and cameras, and other advanced technologies that comprise the cars of tomorrow must be sourced here. For the first time ever, batteries, electric motors and all the cool stuff that makes them work have to be sourced locally too. Those parts do not travel well, and as a result, local availability will drive many future investment decisions.
The stage was set for a material rebirth of the automotive sector in Ontario. This province is the only place in North America that has a world-class automotive cluster and a world-class information technology cluster in the same place. Five of the biggest global automakers have been here for decades, and their history has built up towns all over the province.
Toyota started it off by announcing that its best-selling advanced technology Lexus would be assembled in Woodstock, Ont. Next, Honda and General Motors announced a partnership to pursue advanced auto technologies together that will surely burn up the highway between Alliston and Oshawa. Last month, Ford told the world it was betting on Oakville with zero-emissions vehicle assembly, and Fiat Chrysler responded with a similar exclamation in Windsor.
Thursday, General Motors announced a reopening of Oshawa Assembly, and a partnership over 110 years old was reborn. Ontario is again the envy of North America.
Within the next decade, we believe that Chinese and French automakers will spawn a new wave of transportation and mobility investments here. The APMA’s Project Arrow, an all-Canadian designed and engineered zero-emissions concept vehicle, will inspire a dozen Silicon Valley-type auto startups too. It’s an automotive renaissance that owes so much to those top-secret trade meetings in Washington, Mexico City, Ottawa and Montreal — along with the Canadians who lit the path when it was darkest.
For 20 years, the industry here has seen a slow decline as Mexico and the American south have risen. Today, however, the new NAFTA — now called CUSMA in this country — and our technology sector have tipped the table in our favour. In a pandemic year when the industry stepped up to make the largest build-orders of medical products in Canadian history, we all learned how important it is to have people that can make things. For the next 20 years, we are going to see how exciting that can be as well.
Go Team Canada.
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