front low angle view of New York Tesla factory
Tesla is in talks with the Ontario government about improving the province’s competitiveness for attracting manufacturing facilities, per lobbyist registry documents recently filed with the province. Photo: Tesla

CEO Elon Musk has hinted heavily, as recently as Tesla’s Aug. 4 annual meeting, that it is considering Canada as a destination for a new manufacturing facility. But public documents filed in Ontario in July are the first concrete evidence of Tesla’s interest in either an industrial or “advanced manufacturing facility”

Tesla has initiated talks with the Ontario government about improving the province’s competitiveness for attracting manufacturing facilities, per lobbyist registry documents recently filed with the province.

Suspicions that the Texas-headquartered electric automaker is considering setting up a factory in Canada have long been brewing, but largely they are based on what Tesla founder Elon Musk says in passing remarks on company calls and, most recently, at its annual shareholders meeting on Aug. 4.

Electric Autonomy Canada can exclusively report Tesla’s latest goal as detailed in its lobbyist registry.

A new objective, reads the July 2022 disclosure, is to “Engage with the government and its agencies to identify opportunities for industrial and/or advanced manufacturing facility permitting reforms with the intent to increase the competitiveness of Ontario and its ability to attract capital investment through establishing approvals timeframes that are competitive with high-growth manufacturing locations in North America, while also working with government to identify or align incentives programs that could further increase the attractiveness of Ontario for industrial and/or advanced manufacturing investment.”

This goal is a new addition to Tesla’s ongoing list of lobby activities with the Ontario government, which range from consultations on regulations around electric and autonomous vehicles to solar panel use.

Provincial, federal ministers respond

Electric Autonomy Canada requested comments from Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade Vic Fedeli, federal minister of Innovation, Science and Education (ISED) François-Philippe Champagne, and three representatives from Tesla.

Minister Fedeli had “no comment” on the question of whether or not Tesla is looking to set up additional facilities in Ontario.

However, in an email sent to Electric Autonomy Canada after his initial decline to comment, Fedeli stated: “By reducing the cost of doing business by $7B annually, Ontario has attracted $16B in EV investments in the last 20 months.

Ontario has become a critical location for the end-to-end EV supply chain, and we expect to continue to see companies from around the globe select Ontario as they expand.”

Minister Champagne’s office replied with the following statement: “We know how important the auto industry is for Canada‘s economy and for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians employed in the sector. That’s why Minister Champagne has been tirelessly working to secure the future of Canada’s auto industry, including by bringing more companies into Canada and into the entire EV ecosystem.

“It’s good to see our government’s investments are gaining attention from automakers and companies from around the world and we’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure Canadians are benefiting from the global shift to EVs.”

Federal lobbyist registry documents show Tesla has met with ISED, among other government ministries.

Tesla representatives did not reply by time of publication.

Breadcrumbs to an Ontario plant

Electric Autonomy has been following Tesla’s quiet, but strategic moves in Canada — many of which are occurring in Ontario — and we predicted in April 2022 that Tesla may be ramping up its Canadian strategy after it posted a job ad for a senior policy associate in critical minerals and supply chain based to be in Toronto.

In October 2019, Electric Autonomy exclusively reported that Tesla had bought Richmond Hill, Ont.-based, Hibar Systems Ltd. Hibar was a precision battery equipment manufacturing company. A year later, Hibar was renamed to Tesla Toronto Automation ULC.

Also in late 2020, Tesla quietly purchased Mississauga, Ont.-based Springpower — a battery cathode technology company. As part of the purchase Tesla also acquired three battery patents, but has never commented publicly on how it intends to use them or how the Springpower purchase fit into Tesla’s overall plans.

In January 2021, Tesla renewed its research contract with lithium-ion battery pioneer Jeff Dahn, who is based at his lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

By November 2021, Tesla had opened its first branded factory in Ontario where it makes battery equipment to be sent to Giga Berlin and Giga Texas.

Then, in March 2022, Tesla was rumoured to have signed a deal with Vale to secure Canadian nickel. That was confirmed two months later by the automaker in a disclosure report with Vale’s EVP of base metals, Deshnee Naidoo, also confirming the news in a press release, “We are pleased to have the leading electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla among our customers.”

Throughout the spring and summer Musk dropped multiple hints about Canada being a potential location for a future Tesla plant. The latest was at this week’s annual shareholder’s meeting. Musk polled the attendees about where the next Tesla factory should go and mused aloud, “We get a lot of Canada. I am half Canadian, maybe I should?”

Is Ontario competitive enough for Tesla?

Electric Autonomy asked Minister Fedeli as well as Tesla representatives if the recent updates to Tesla’s Ontario lobbyist registry pertain to its existing Ontario facilities or to new facilities.

Neither party provided a statement to clarify, but the phrase “advanced manufacturing facility” used in the Tesla registry documents, while generic, has been previously used by Tesla to describe its Giga Texas factory.

In addition, Tesla has not made a similar or comparable disclosure of this particular lobbying goal in any of its other Canadian lobbyist registry filings either at the provincial or federal levels. That may be because Ontario has battery manufacturing-adjacent infrastructure to offer that is not seen in many other places in Canada.

That Ontario has been able to build out a near-complete EV battery supply chain in just under two years is a point of pride for the provincial government. The list includes: mining operations to extract critical battery minerals; refining facilities either built or promised in the coming five years; pre-cathode active material (pCAM) and cathode active material (CAM) manufacturers promised; battery cell makers currently building facilities in the province and looking to be operational in the next two years; and the existing auto manufacturing industry that is rapidly pivoting to electric vehicle production.

The most recent coup for Ontario was securing a $1.5-billion battery material facility to be built and operated in eastern Ontario by Belgium-based Umicore, in July — just days before Tesla updated its registry filing.

Umicore is already a partner for Tesla in various mineral sourcing and battery recycling applications.

The Umicore facility will provide enough pCAM and CAM material for one million electric vehicles per year. But, most significantly, Umicore has not yet announced what company or companies it will be supplying the material to.

When asked in previous interviews by Electric Autonomy if Umicore was considering setting up more than just pCAM and CAM facilities in the province, Minister Fedeli said, “Not today, but tomorrow.”

In addition, Umicore elected — in a departure from all of the other battery supply chain companies now coming to Ontario — to situate their facility just outside of Kingston in Loyalist Township rather than in the Windsor area.

(It bears noting that Musk’s alma mater, Queen’s University, is located just 20 minutes from the Umicore plant location. It is not confirmed at this time if Musk is a sentimentalist.)