Automobility Enterprises, a division of the newly launched Canadian Automobility Hub, plans to draw on local and global partners to meet an emerging demand for specialty, small series EV production runs
When Christoph Lienemann was in California a couple years ago, the North America managing director of German engineering services firm PEM Motion noticed a plethora of machines in an agricultural field.
The harvesting machines, with their outstretched arms and storage compartments, bolted around the field and grabbed a series of almond trees one at a time. After shaking the tree, hundreds upon hundreds of almonds would fall to the ground, and the driver would vacuum the fallen nuts into the vehicle.
Watching from afar, Lienemann — introduced last month as one of four directors of Automobility Enterprises, a new, Windsor, Ont.-based electric vehicle micro manufacturing company — knew instantly that bolstering the harvesting fleet with electric vehicles was an opportunity-in-waiting for a flexible, small series manufacturing hub.
Micro manufacturing vision
Designing that kind of facility is a PEM Motion speciality. And while Windsor isn’t close to any almond plantations, realizing similar opportunities — capitalizing on last-mile and other emerging EV niche markets — is at the heart of the micro manufacturing vision for Automobility Enterprises that Lienemann and his partners share.
“My first time in Windsor was 2019,” he says. “I was introduced to the Invest WindsorEssex team, told them about this idea, and they really liked it as they also wanted to make Windsor a bit more focused on future technologies like electric vehicles.”
Automobility Enterprises expects to be fully operational next year. It will operate as a division of the new Canadian Automobility Hub, also unveiled last month, and will be housed in a downtown building owned by Windsor Mold, a partner in the venture with PEM Motion and Integris Software of Ottawa.
The rest of the hub will operate out of Windsor’s St. Clair College, in partnership with Invest Windsor Essex and the University of Windsor, along with PEM Motion, Windsor Mold and Integris. As it expands, the hub will serve as a one-stop shop for EV manufacturing, innovation, and research.
Fleets and commercial vehicles
Automobility Enterprises’ plant will be focused initially on manufacturing zero-emission EVs for operators of modular commercial fleets, such as those in transit or logistics, that require the production of 5,000 to 10,000 units or less.
The company’s first business contract has already been signed. The micro manufacturer will help convert two vehicles from an electricity distribution company in Windsor, ENWIN Utilities, from gas to electric.
Though PEM Motion is a key partner in the facility, Lienemann says local connections will play a large role in the facility having its own autonomy.
“It’s never a PEM facility,” Lienemann says. “We want to be a partner, bring knowledge and lessons learned from Aachem [Germany, PEM’s headquarters] to the ideas, but we want to build something local with the partners and create an ecosystem there.”
The micro plant will be run by a team of four directors including Karl Anton, a former manufacturing director for Ford now with PEM Motion, Integris’ managing director Randy Zadra, who has experience working for the National Research Council of Canada, Windsor Mold’s Dave Mastronardi, and Lienemann. The board is still looking to hire a general manager.
Quicker to market
As a micro manufacturer, rather than competing on volume, Automobility Enterprises can be more flexible, expend less capital, and address the needs of new, unique customers more quickly.
“I think we can be much quicker with the industrialization of products in the ramp-up, so that’s a huge advantage for startups if they’re more tied to the market and want to be quick,” he says.
“There’s Ford, Volkswagen, which go in the one thousand, one million [automobile] volumes, that’s not our competition.”
Lienemann admits there are challenges to navigate with a micro manufacturer; specifically, attracting orders from bigger clients and building up manufacturing talent in the Windsor region’s growing EV industry.
However, he is excited at the prospect of growing Automobility Enterprises in Windsor, as the region’s strong history in automobile manufacturing played a significant role in opening a plant in the area.
“Windsor’s led the automotive industry in Canada since 1904, that was the year Henry Ford and Gordon Morton McGregor set up the first Ford manufacturing facility here in Windsor,” says Stephen MacKenzie, president and CEO of Invest WindsorEssex.
With two OEMs, 85 to 90 parts companies, and roughly 350 machine tool and die and mold businesses still in the region, MacKenzie adds, the micro plant will build on Windsor’s automotive manufacturing history by adapting to an industry that’s rapidly shifting towards zero-emission vehicles and green technology.
He also believes the micro plant’s ability to cater to specific niches is a significant boon to the business.
“Many OEMs are not set up, and it’s not of interest to them, for a 20,000 or 10,000 run,” MacKenzie says. “But with these niche micro factories, ramp-up factories, we can produce white label vehicles for fleets that their main product is a delivery vehicle.”
Lienemann’s immediate goals with the micro plant, once it’s up and running, will be to complete its work for ENWIN, hire more talent, and secure more contracts. As the business scales up, Lienemann says its aim is to score contracts for 1,000 or 2,000 vehicles.
In the long run, however, he hopes to establish an ecosystem that fosters future technology development — through research and development — between companies in the region similar to that in Aachen. “Windsor is really an automotive and manufacturing region with a huge history in both, so we wanted to leverage this amazing ecosystem which is already there.”
Editor’s note: This article was revised on Dec. 20, 2021, to clarify details of the venture’s origins.