The global spotlight is shining on Project Arrow as the completed electric vehicle prototype debuted at CES 2023, cementing its status as a calling card for made-in-Canada automotive expertise
Flavio Volpe is, by his own admission, cars obsessed.
It started when Volpe, now the president of Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, was seven or eight years old.
Car-loving Zio Tony (aka Uncle Tony) liked to give Volpe, his young nephew, a thrill by pulling into the family driveway perched in the driver’s seat of his boss’ latest ride.
It was a BMW 7 series one week, a Porsche 911 another and the Ferrari 308 in nice weather. Uncle Tony would walk Volpe, bolt-by-bolt, through each of the exotic whips.
Volpe’s favourite was the Ferrari. It was a love cemented when his politician father (not a car guy at all) smooth talked his way into a backstage tour of the Ferrari booth at the Toronto Auto Show when Volpe was 10 years old.
Fast forward some 35-odd-years later, and Volpe is standing in the middle of another trade show floor. It is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 in Las Vegas and Project Arrow, the cutting-edge electric vehicle Volpe helped build from the ground up — his “fourth child” — is launching into the world.
Today, Project Arrow (affectionately nicknamed Canada’s Car) made its international debut before tens of thousands of attendees from around the world — three years after the project was first announced at CES 2020.
Much more than a personal milestone for Volpe, Arrow’s debut is the culmination of a cross-country effort involving more than 50 companies, three governments and hundreds of engineers, project managers, designers and students. Their twin goals: to showcase Canadian automotive design, engineering and manufacturing expertise in the age of electric vehicles to the world, and to inspire home-grown talent and capital to keep innovating.
“This allows for us to put forward a focal point for the next generation of car-crazy kids,” says Volpe, in an interview with Electric Autonomy just prior to Arrow’s debut. “We can make a car, you can make your own car and, maybe, you can make your own car company.”
Project Arrow on the world stage
It’s never been in Arrow (or Volpe’s) DNA to creep through the door.
From the get-go, Project Arrow was not-so-humbly pegged to the Canadian legend, the Avro Arrow. It serves as useful brand recognition and helps size the magnitude of the challenge in the public’s mind.
“The Prime Minister dared us to imagine Canada’s net zero mobility future and the Premier of Ontario challenged us to build it,” said Volpe in a press statement.
But in this iteration of the Arrow story, unlike the ill-fated aviation project, the road version has lived to see mission completion.
“It’s an historic milestone, certainly, for Canada,” says Victor Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, in an interview with Electric Autonomy. “[Avro Arrow] was really leading Canadian innovation at the time, generations ago. It turned out differently (because of politics). But here we’ve got a new Project Arrow that is also leading-edge innovation and has that can-do approach.”
That Arrow’s introduction to the world is happening at the largest tech conference in the world is not so much kicking the door down as it is demolishing a humble low-rise and building a 30-storey skyscraper in its place.
“We haven’t had a new car company in this country in over 100 years,” says Volpe.
“It’s difficult to define what Canadian cars are — they’re always cars for somebody else. I’m hopeful that the legacy of the Arrow will spawn several car-making startups in Canada. Maybe the next Elon Musk is a full-blown Canadian?”
It took three years from concept to construction to get the Arrow made and included navigating lowlights like a pandemic, supply chain collapse and a trade blockade crisis. But Project Arrow is now fulfilling its intention to be the calling card for Canada’s automotive talent.
“A lot of Canadian industry partners really came together to design and build this,” says Fedeli. “This has been, I think, a labor of love for a lot of people. And I think it is the shows not only that the industry is excited about Ontario, but our government is excited.”
In total, over 50 Canadian companies supplied software and hardware technology to Project Arrow. Two post-secondary institutions were involved in the design and build and an additional R&D facility provided testing support.
The project received $8.2 million in combined funding from the federal, Ontario and Quebec governments.
The result of the time, effort and expenditure is a fully working prototype of 100 per cent all-Canadian car of the future.
“It’s like a proof point when we’re out looking for companies to locate to Ontario. We will point to this now as an end-to-end design, manufacture and assembly of vehicles,” says Fedeli.
The menu of technology options in the Arrow is extensive.
Telematics, smart cabin control systems, wireless charging capabilities, autonomous driving systems, multi-layered cybersecurity defences, health-monitoring software and a 3D-printed chassis are just some of the leading-edge Arrow features.
Each component of the vehicle is different, but they all have one thing in common: Arrow may be the car of tomorrow, but it’s the technology and parts of today.
“The project scope was we’ll build a car so that we can draw more eyes to suppliers’ technologies. Then we challenged the suppliers to have the most advanced commercially ready technology they have on offer for sale to OEMs and Tier 1s,” says Volpe.
Arrow’s purpose in the next phase of its journey will be to act as a moveable showroom.
Viewers can, quite literally, call Arrow suppliers and buy the technology out of the car. The vehicle’s launch at CES marks the start of a two-year tour that will take the Arrow to different events and auto shows around the world demonstrating over and over what made-in-Canada quality looks like.
But the question about the Arrow as a whole and not just its parts keeps boomeranging back into Volpe’s lap.
Is the Arrow going to go into production?
At this stage, Volpe won’t say one way or the other. But he does point out that the Arrow has already exceeded expectations, so who is to say what the future will hold?
“This is a demonstration project done by a trade association. So, there’s a long shadow between intention and reality,” says Volpe.
“If somebody wants to take the Arrow and bring it over the line, we absolutely want to have that conversation.”
The Arrow’s legacy
In 2020, Zio Tony died after a battle with cancer.
He lived just long enough for his longtime “car buddy,” Volpe, to tell him about Project Arrow.
“I told him that we were gonna make our own car,” recalls Volpe. “This is going to sound like I made it up, but he did say, ‘I always knew you were gonna do something like that.’ I’m like, ‘You know what? Now I have to.'”
Were he at CES 2023 to see the curtain lift on his nephew’s Project Arrow, Volpe believes Tony — whose pride and joy was his little Fiat 600 — would have “shed a tear.”
And while for Volpe the Arrow may symbolize the realization of a boyhood dream shared between he and his uncle, the potential it has unlocked for Canadian parts suppliers could easily transcend the car world and touch all ways of moving from A to B.
“What we’re talking about here is mobility tech. We’re starting with a car, but we’re really talking about technologies that help people and goods move around,” says Volpe.
“A lot of these skill sets, both of the companies and the people, are so easily translatable and portable. Canada can and should be a leader in clean connected transportation. The aim of the companies that partnered with us is to get business wherever it takes them.”
So, in short, the Canadian message Arrow is taking around the world is a simple one, flavoured heavily by Enzo Ferrari — the carmaker that started it all for Volpe.
“If you can dream it,” said Ferrari, “You can do it.”
For Volpe, Arrow is the living proof.