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In the fifth episode of our discussion series on Canada’s potential to develop a national EV battery supply chain, expert panelists representing some of Canada’s most significant EV manufacturers call for additional ZEV targets for commercial vehicles

Electric Autonomy Canada hosted the fifth panel of a six-part series on Canada’s national EV battery supply chain this week. 

The focus was on Pack and Vehicle Assembly, and panelists discussed Canada’s next policy moves to build a national EV battery supply chain — and the politics behind them. The discussion was moderated by Emma Jarratt, managing editor of Electric Autonomy Canada.

You can watch the full discussion by clicking the video player at the top of this article.

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The 2035 target

The discussion took place an hour after the federal government’s announcement that all new cars and light-duty passenger trucks sold in Canada will be zero emission by 2035. The target puts greater pressures on automakers and throws into even sharper relief the need for Canada to commit to and build out a national battery supply chain.

“I think it’s a good target. I think it’s an ambitious target,” said David Paterson, vice president of corporate and environmental affairs at GM Canada. “It’s an exciting time. We [GM] are all in in terms of moving to electric, but we’ve got to bring the consumer along when it comes to the broad automotive area.”

The more aggressive target came with an equal measure of support and trepidation from panelists and audience members. Many applauded the sentiment of a faster commitment to a clean transportation future, but also raised concerns about the fine print of how Canada will get there.

Is it ambitious enough?

Emmanuelle Toussaint, vice president legal, regulatory and public affairs at Nova Bus (part of Volvo Group) said the announcement is a step in the right direction, but highlighted the remaining issue of heavy-duty truck emissions and the need for infrastructure funding to support the transition to electric. 

Marc Bédard, CEO of Lion Electric Co., echoed other panelists’ excitement for the announcement, adding that he’s been “waiting for this for at least 13 years” and that time is not on Canada’s side when it comes to catching up: “Urgency should be key in everything we do now.”

In terms of what Canada should do moving forward, Ted Dowling, vice president at BYD Canada said that he was more concerned that targets for commercial vehicles should be put ahead of consumer vehicles. He urged that in order for Canada to see real, short-term gains from clean emissions, another target needs to be set to electrify all commercial vehicles by 2030. 

“There are already cities and other places in world moving in this direction,” he says.

Buy “North America”

Panelists also discussed incentives and other policies that would help move the country towards its 2035 goal. 

Bédard expressed support for a “Buy Canada” initiative, similar to the “Buy America” movement in USMCA discussions. Dowling also expressed support, but said that there needs to be an enforcement mechanism for made-in-Canada content, tailored to Canadian needs — along the same lines as the U.S. Public Transit Association and FDA guidelines.  

Paterson said that technological developments in this area are an essential, generational opportunity for North America because they are the only way to make EV batteries cost competitive with internal combustion engines.

Toussaint added another perspective, highlighting the challenges of a “Buy Canada” initiative with the country’s ties to Europe. She also noted that the asymmetric incentives would essentially push investors to the U.S., where they have a much larger consumer market.

The ‘Buy Canada’ approach would be a “disaster” for the car, truck and SUV industry, agreed Paterson because of North America’s integrated market.

Both Toussaint and Paterson pointed instead to a “Buy North America” Act that lines up better with the integrated nature of the Canadian and U.S. markets, with potential benefits for both. 

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Electric Autonomy’s next panel discussion on Battery Second Life: Reuse/Recycling will take place on July 6. You can register for the event here.