Ontario targets the EV economy in second phase of new auto sector strategy
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Nov 18, 2021
Emma Jarratt

Speaking from the headquarters of a leading auto parts maker, Premier Ford unveiled a government strategy that includes goals for another EV assembly plant, battery cell manufacturing, autonomous R&D and skills training

Premier Doug Ford announces provincial government strategy for accelerating Ontario’s EV economy. Photo: Doug Ford/LinkedIn

Speaking from the headquarters of a leading auto parts maker, Premier Ford unveiled a government strategy that includes goals for another EV assembly plant, battery cell manufacturing, autonomous R&D and skills training

The Ontario government says it is pushing ahead with its plan to ready the province’s auto sector for the future, with an emphasis on making Ontario an electric vehicle manufacturing and autonomous research hub.

Premier Doug Ford and minister of economic development, Vic Fedeli, announced on Nov. 17 that the province is moving into Phase 2 of its automotive manufacturing roadmap, first unveiled in 2019, “Driving Prosperity: The Future of Ontario’s Automotive Sector.”

The joint announcement, made at Guelph, Ont.-based auto parts maker Linamar, offers more insight into the promises made two years ago. The prevailing theme of the overall plan is to merge northern Ontario’s mining industry with the automotive manufacturing sector in the southern part of the province and heavily favour building up an autonomous technology ecosystem.

Phase 2 is specifically focused on electric and autonomous vehicles.

Ford is pledging to partner with the auto industry to meet four key targets by 2030: “reposition vehicle and parts production for the car of the future, establish and support a battery supply chain ecosystem, innovate in every stage of development [and] invest in Ontario’s auto workers.”

Also, in a Dec. 2 follow-up, the government expanded on the details of its pledge by unveiling the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN). OVIN is essentially an updated and expanded version of the former Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN). It incorporates greater emphasis and new investment — $56.4 million, according to the government — in electric vehicle research, skills training and commercialization.

Seeking new production mandates

The “anchor objective” for the Phase 2 plan is to “Maintain and grow Ontario’s auto sector by building at least 400,000 electric vehicles and hybrids by 2030.” The government cites industry projections that by 2030 one out of every three vehicles sold globally will be electric and that the market volume will be 31.1 million vehicles.

“Together, we will build a future-oriented automotive ecosystem with the supply chain capacity, skills base and technology clusters essential for long-term success,” reads Ford’s statement about the announcement, in part.

With Ford, Stellantis and General Motors already committed to begin production of electric cars and commercial vans between 2022 and 2025 in Oakville, Windsor and Ingersoll, the province is well on its way to that production total already.

However, the plan sets out three additional, related goals: “secure new automaker production mandates that include hybrid and battery EVs; land a new vehicle assembly plant; make Ontario a significant player in EV battery manufacturing.”

At the moment, the latter is probably the biggest gap to fill, though Premier Ford has spoken bullishly in recent weeks about landing one of two battery cell manufacturing plants that Stellantis has said it intends to build somewhere in North America.

“Let’s see how the market dictates…I always look at (what) the market will bear.”

Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario

“All options on the table”

The plan recognizes that successfully repositioning the province for success in the EV era also requires doing more to encourage EV adoption by consumers and businesses. To help guide it, the plan notes, the government recently set up a dedicated Transportation Electrification Council comprised of business leaders, community stakeholders and not-for-profit organizations.

In response to Electric Autonomy Canada‘s request for more information about the council and what policies it might advocate, we received an emailed statement from a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation.

It reads, in part, that “the purpose and function of the Transportation Electrification Council is to inform a Transportation Electrification Policy that will help encourage electric vehicle (EV) adoption in Ontario. Council meetings will support our government’s commitment to electrifying the transportation sector and identify opportunities in key areas such as charging infrastructure, information and awareness, upfront cost, and supply of EVs in Ontario. All options are on the table at this point.”

According to data from Statistics Canada, electric vehicles represented 1.8 per cent of new light duty vehicle sales in Ontario in 2020, which was below the global average of 2.7 percent and well behind the Canadian national average of 3.5 per cent.

Ford eliminated an existing provincial subsidy for EV buyers and cancelled government funding for EV charger installation when he took office in 2018. So it will be interesting to see what the council recommends and if the government — which is facing a provincial election next June — grows more receptive to policies that have proven hugely successful in driving EV adoption in provinces like Quebec and B.C.

Last week, Premier Ford told the CBC, “I’m not going to give rebates to guys that are buying $100,000 cars — millionaires.”

But at the Nov. 17 announcement, he made an about-face on his earlier hardline saying, instead, “Before the election, I didn’t believe in giving millionaires rebates on … $100,000 Tesla cars…I just didn’t believe in it. Let’s see how the market dictates…I always look at (what) the market will bear.”

Is it enough to maximize Ontario’s potential?

In August, Cedric Smith, senior analyst at Pembina Institute, co-authored a report on what must be done to bring the Ontario’s auto sector to a level that reflects that zero-emission — and specifically electric vehicles — will be the dominant type of transportation in the near future.

That report’s seven recommendations highlighted the need for a dedicated EV council, amending building codes to require new construction to be EV-ready and financial assistance for both infrastructure installation and EV purchases.

While it did create a council, in its Phase 2 announcement the government is much less specific, pledging only to “remove barriers, develop best practices, and provide strategic support to enable EV uptake across the province.”

“We’re really pleased to see that there’s a really strong electric vehicle focus in phase two of the Driving Prosperity plan. Phase one was not quite as focused on electric vehicles as as phase two is and we see that as progress,” says Smith.

At first glance, he adds, phase two appears far-reaching and gives the impression of addressing many adoption barriers. “[But] their language at this point is still somewhat high level. It’s important that Ontario be concrete in terms of the electric vehicle support policies that it does want to put out.”

Minister Fedeli said at the press conference that the government would be unveiling specifics of the phase two plan in the coming weeks. While that may not be as swift as some advocates would like, Smith is encouraged that the announcement demonstrates some degree of appreciation for the opportunities at stake.

“Ontario has historically lagged behind when it comes to EV adoption. We’re happy to see goals from the attraction of a new battery assembly plant to increasing the export of Ontario-made auto innovations and parts to the support of an electric battery supply chain ecosystem — these things we see as a step in the right direction.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Dec. 3 with information about the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network.

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