Ontario’s Durham Region is building out one of the most robust auto manufacturing ecosystems. Project Arrow is the area’s proof of concept from R&D to final assembly and everything in between
This article is Sponsor Content presented by Invest Durham
This month Project Arrow landed on the world stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Project Arrow is the Made-in-Canada electric, connected vehicle of the future. It houses the technology and talent of 58 Canadian automotive parts suppliers and tech companies. The vehicle’s painstaking assembly has taken two years. Every second of which happened quietly and diligently in Ontario — specifically, at Ontario Tech University in Durham Region.
“We had an option to build this car literally anywhere across the country,” says Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA).
“I think that the work done by Ontario Tech University to get this project successfully over the line — in the face of some strong global headwinds — should be told to engineering students for generations.”
Project Arrow pulled back the curtain on Canadian automotive talent. It also turned up the volume on Durham Region’s low-key hum in a significant way; anticipated to be felt across the area’s automotive sector for years to come.
Making up the eastern side of the Greater Toronto Area, Durham is carefully cultivating a pedigree of talent, resources and investment you might have missed due to its proximity within Canada’s economic engine. Durham is now stepping out and taking ownership of its reputation as something of a Silicon Valley for mobility in Ontario.
“We have a more than 100-year history in automotive and we are the Clean Energy Capital of Canada,” says Dan Ruby, manager of business development and investment at Invest Durham.
“The ecosystem is here, the supply chain is here. We are sitting at the intersection of energy and the automotive space. If you think about two concentric circles, representing those industries the crossover piece — the bull’s eye — is the EV.”
Project Arrow’s prototype assembly is now complete. But the talent pool that has been born, trained and rooted in the region for decades continues to push the limits of leading-edge technology development.
The question now is, which automotive company will be the next to benefit?
The real-world Durham effect
The thing about the auto world is that its life blood is protecting trade secrets. So, that makes being able to share publicly who is doing what with whom a challenge.
There are some Durham Region auto legacies — General Motors, for one — synonymous with the area for the last century. But with the advent of autonomous, zero-emission vehicles there is a new crop of start ups flocking to the area. These companies stand to see enormous gains from nimble, boundary pushing partnerships.
But interested companies should know it’s not just EVs that are booming in Durham.
“We’re doing much more than batteries and electric vehicles,” says Ruby.
“We have hydrogen capacity; we have a small modular reactor being built. We still have land available and facilities available in Durham that are not necessarily available in Toronto. Also, the talent is being developed here.”
And without naming names, says Justin Gammage, senior executive advisor for strategic research priorities and industry collaborations at Ontario Tech, the partnerships between companies, the Region and the university are overwhelming successes.
“One of our partners, through the work they’ve done with ourselves and the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), have realized a tripling in their sales and revenue from the new innovations they’ve developed in partnership with us,” says Gammage.
“They went from being a successful small- to medium-sized company to a very successful medium-sized company.”
Gammage credits the culture central to Durham’s automotive hub as much as the energetic talent pool for these types of wins. The synergy between the two creates an environment where collaboration, creativity and innovation flourish.
“The people that come [to Durham] won’t be islands on their own. All kinds of other people are coming to the area as well that they can network with and share stories and share ideas in creative ways. It’s really cool to be part of that.”
“Ready to play”
Hundreds of thousands of people are going to see Project Arrow as it leaves its Ontario Tech nest and launches into the world for its two-year publicity tour.
Already Project Arrow travelled 3,667 kilometres across the continent to reach CES 2023. Headlines about the all-Canadian IP vehicle — and its hometown — are now reverberating around the globe.
Those just hearing about the region and its potential through Project Arrow may assume there is ample runway to invest. And while there is still room and a warm welcome for newcomers, savvy leaders are already putting down big footprints.
Last year saw Durham run some of the most advanced autonomous vehicle pilots in North America. In addition to GM, Volkswagen has been a long-time mainstay in the region with its Canadian head office in Ajax (along with subsidiary Audi). There is also auto technology leader, Lear Systems, and AI driver assistance technology company, Axcessiom Technologies. The latter company is involved with Project Arrow.
Momentum in Ontario’s land of motors and energy is building, says Volpe, Gammage and Ruby. Project Arrow is a vital and memorable chapter in the Durham Region’s development, but the next wave of innovation and investment will be the defining arc.
“Project Arrow is a business card for Durham,” says Ruby.
“By showcasing that to the globe it’s a win-win. We are highlighting the capacity and expertise that we have in our backyard. Durham is ready to play.”