By joining a new California commercialization centre for mobility companies — and pairing that with a local strategic relationship — the partners seek a business edge that also helps advance Canada’s entire mobility ecosystem
A pair of announcements, a week apart, has revealed the emergence of a network of potentially powerful strategic commercialization partnerships, on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, featuring some leading players in Ontario’s electric mobility sector.
On Wednesday, venture capital firm EnerTech Capital, tier-one auto parts manufacturer and supplier Linamar, municipal utility Alectra, along with Western University, unveiled the signing of a memorandum of understanding to foster R&D collaborations in the Ontario mobility sector.
That news followed last week’s announcement that Linamar had become the newest member of the California Mobility Center (CMC) and that Linda Hasenfratz, Linamar’s chief executive officer, had joined the CMC board.
The CMC is a 10-month-old Sacramento-based organization whose mission is to help early-stage mobility companies accelerate commercialization of their products by linking them with established industry leaders and service providers. Besides Linamar, its growing member base includes a small cohort of Canadian companies, notably Alectra and EnerTech — the latter of which helped cofound the CMC with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).
Where the future is going
“The dominant strategy for our mobility business is to develop products and accelerate our business in electrified vehicles. That’s where the future is going,” says Linda Hasenfratz in an exclusive interview with Electric Autonomy Canada, explaining why Linamar joined the CMC. “The better we can be informed, the more involved we can be with groups that are exploring and trying to advance the technologies around electric vehicles, the better we’ll be positioned to be able to grow our own business.”
Meanwhile, Wally Hunter, EnerTech’s managing director, describes the new Ontario partnership, which EnerTech initiated, as an informal “localization” extension of the CMC. “We’ve got offices in Toronto, we’re looking at [Ontario mobility] companies to invest in, so this ecosystem of partners can help those companies in their commercialization quest and link them up with the California Mobility Center as part of it as well,” Hunter says.
By bringing Western University into the local partnership, the group hopes to serve two goals: create improved opportunities for student employment in the mobility area, and to leverage Western’s research capabilities to accelerate development of new technologies for Canadian mobility start-ups.
Casting a wide net
To be clear, even though the CMC is based in Sacramento, the California state capital, Canadian start-ups are also welcome to approach it directly. Just as CMC member companies are from throughout North America and beyond, it is casting an equally wide net for early-stage firms seeking commercialization support.
“People will say, ‘Why California?’ The reality of it is, a lot of advanced mobility companies are coming to California because right now that’s the largest EV market in the world second to China,” says Mark Rawson, CMC’s chief operator officer, in an interview with Electric Autonomy. “It’s also where you see some of the most progressive public policy being made to promote electrification and carbon reduction in the transportation sector.”
While every young company’s situation is unique, Rawson says the basic model is for those companies to leverage CMC’s resources to launch or field test their products in the California market, then use that as a jumping off point for entry into other markets in North America and beyond.
Rawson says CMC will support a “broad spectrum” of clients, from personal mobility through to heavy-duty vehicles in transportation, as well those working in charging infrastructure and grid-related applications. This explains why its members include companies like Linamar, from the auto side, and Alectra, from the utility side.
“Heretofore, those industry segments didn’t really work together, they didn’t really need to,” says Rawson. “But now, as there’s this big push towards electrification, you see utilities and the automakers having to work together because they each play a critical role in making sure that the end consumers’ experience in transitioning is a smooth one.”
Members also benefit
While CMC’s primary goal is to foster commercialization, established companies that join as members also have much to gain. First, it offers a window on best practices in technology as well as policy and regulatory development. Equally important, it also gives member companies access to early-stage companies that they may want to work with.
Hasenfratz expects both to be great value to Linamar, and is particularly excited about its potential to enhance her company’s R&D and product development.
“We quite like the idea of tapping into these innovative new companies that have developed some kind of new technology that is ready for commercialization, but they’re probably not really ready to manufacture,” she says. “That’s what we do, right? That’s what we’re an expert at. So we can come in as a partner to those businesses and be a manufacturing partner for them.
“It helps them because it’s getting their product to market in a very effective way. It helps us because it’s giving us more things in our toolkit, more access to more technologies that we can sell to our customers. And it helps our customers because it accelerates their strategies around electrification. So it’s kind of a win-win all around.”
The same focus on collaboration is what motivated Linamar to be part of the new Ontario-based partnership. “The more we collaborate, the faster we get things done, right?” says Hasenfratz.
Alectra, meanwhile, as Canada’s largest municipally owned utility, can derive similar opportunities from the CMC through the identification of promising companies and first-hand engagement with California utilities and regulators. In a statement released when Alectra became a CMC member in late October and CEO Brian Bentz joined its board, Bentz stated: “We believe our partnership with the California Mobility Center provides an opening for Alectra to glean lessons from California’s experience and progressive policies surrounding clean energy technologies and can enable the utility industry as a whole to fast-track new possibilities and investments.”
Beachhead for climate action
Looking ahead, Rawson says that while CMC’s board is largely complete, it hopes to grow its member roster significantly in the next year — from its current total of about 40 companies (including Lion Electric, another Canadian member) to several hundred.
Beyond the benefits for the individual companies and the start-ups, regulators and policy makers with which they engage, he says the CMC’s goal of speeding up commercialization will also have enormous public payback.
“That commercialization challenge needs to be addressed if we’re going to meet some of the very aggressive carbon goals that have been laid out by global leaders,” Rawson says. “That’s why CMC is trying to support a global marketplace as kind of a beachhead where some of the most progressive public policy and public investments are being made in pushing electrification and clean mobility.”