Ottawa invests $5 million to build all-Canadian zero-emissions concept car
The federal government will invest $5 million in Project Arrow, an initiative of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association aimed at creating the country's first all-Canadian zero-emissions vehicle and showcasing domestic technologies to global automakers around the world.
The project was inspired by Ottawa's goal of reaching a net-zero emissions world by 2050, set in the speech from the throne two years ago, and the APMA named it in tribute to the Avro Arrow, that aborted hallmark of Canadian aviation prowess, cancelled in 1959.
It won't be a fighter jet — the idea is to build a reasonably priced electric SUV — but the backers of Project Arrow hope to assemble a concept car, along with a "digital twin" version, by the end of next year. Then, with the demo versions in hand, they could market innovations from Canadian suppliers to car manufacturers from around the world looking for cutting-edge electric vehicle components — or an entire car.
The federal money for Project Arrow will come from FedDev Ontario, with the government set to announce it at an event in Woodbridge, Ont., on Wednesday morning amid expectations that an election will soon be called.
With no domestic automakers in Canada but plenty of parts suppliers, Project Arrow is an unabashed effort to champion the country's companies and technology, from traditional auto parts and interiors to artificial intelligence and battery makers, said APMA president Flavio Volpe, who calls it "an incubator wrapped in an accelerator wrapped in the Canadian flag."
Many of the companies vying to take part in the project are competitors, he said, but the hope is that the "collective collaboration gets more eyes on it than what they'd be able to do on their own."
"It's really satisfying to see the federal government in this project," said Volpe, noting that the final budget will end up at around $30 million to build the concept car and the digital version, along with a virtual version to be used for marketing. The companies involved, which stand to benefit from the potential sale of their technologies, are also contributing to the cost.
The APMA settled on a design by a team of Carleton University students last year and issued a request for proposals in January, looking for suppliers to take part in the concept car.
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Volpe said around 425 companies responded, about one third of those from the GTA, another third from the rest of Ontario and the balance from across the country. Only about 10 to 20 per cent of those companies might build the physical concept car, he said, but others could be included in the digital and virtual versions, which could highlight multiple different battery technologies, for example.
Southwestern Ontario is already a formidable hub for auto manufacturing, but Volpe said the project will also draw from the expertise of companies in that area's IT sector, AI startups in Toronto, machine learning businesses in Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver, and battery makers in Quebec and Ontario.
Stalwarts of Ontario's auto industry are already confirmed for inclusion in the concept car; he listed interior component maker Mississauga-based Woodbridge, Guelph's Linamar Corp., known for engine and transmission technology, and Vaughan-based Martinrea International Inc., which builds car bodies and batteries.
The pandemic has highlighted how disruptive supply-chain interruptions can be, said Mike Moffatt, a professor in business, economics and public policy at Ivey Business School. He said Project Arrow could be a "really tangible" way to demonstrate to global carmakers that they can get everything they need in one place.
On top of that, it offers smaller companies a unique marketing opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have, he said, coming just as auto manufacturers are transitioning from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.
It's also a crucial moment for Ottawa and the province to decide whether and how they want to support Ontario's auto sector, Moffatt said, noting that both levels of government have invested in the industry in recent years. "It might be the one thing that Trudeau and Ford have agreed on .... They see this as being an important space."
Volpe said the Ontario government has also supported Project Arrow, including through some matching funding from the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network, a program of the Ontario Centre of Innovation. "Probably by the end of it, the province may be in for as much as $2 million," he said, adding that the government of Quebec has also offered support.
The concept car will be built at the Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Volpe said, while the digital and virtual versions will be made at the WindsorEssex Virtual Reality CAVE.