By the Numbers: Changing tides for Canada's lagging position in electric vehicle production

Mark Mann
September 30, 2020

Last week, the governments of Canada and Ontario together pledged up to $500 million to enable Ford to build electric vehicles (EV) at the carmaker's plant in Oakville, following protracted negotiations with the Unifor union. The deal, struck shortly after a midnight strike deadline on Tuesday, will see the company spend $1.98 billion on the project, of the total $11 billion US it had committed to develop and manufacture electric vehicles.

The investment comes just in time for Canada's auto industry. A white paper published in April by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) found that "Canada’s auto industry lags behind other auto-manufacturing countries in its preparation for an electrified transportation future." The authors suggested that Canada risks losing a major pillar of its economy if the country fails to accelerate EV production.

The main EV currently produced in Canada is the Chrysler Pacifica, a plug-in hybrid minivan manufactured in Windsor, Ontario. It is the 9th highest selling EV in Canada and the 10th in the US. Ford will build five new EVs at its Oakville plant. "The retooling will begin in 2024 with vehicles rolling off the line in 2025," Unifor president Jerry Dias told the CBC. "So we know this is a decades-long commitment." The Tesla Model 3 dominates the EV market by a wide margin. General Motors and Nissan are the other leading EV automakers.

By the Numbers - Canada's role in the international EV market
60% - Annual global growth in light-duty EV sales since 2012.
3.2 million - The number of EVs projected to be sold in 2025, compared to 2.2 million in 2019.
4.2% - Percentage of the 25 million vehicles produced in China in 2018 that were electric.
0.4% - Percentage of vehicles produced in Canada that were electric.
2.7% - Share of EVs in Canada’s light-duty vehicle market.
12th - Canada's international rank as an EV producer.
5th - Canada's international rank as a commercial vehicle producer.
$45 billion - Value of Canada’s car and truck exports
 80% - Percentage of EVs globally that are manufactured in the region they are sold.

Canada's EV opportunity

Although lagging in EV production, Canada is a leader in autonomous vehicle research and automotive R&D. Ford is a leading partner supporting the Ottawa Autonomous Vehicle Cluster, along with Blackberry, Uber, and others. In 2018, General Motors added the Canadian Technical Centre (CTC) in Markham, Ontario to its roster of tech-focused facilities in Canada, including a tech center in Oshawa and an innovation lab in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The automakers that currently number among Canada's Top 100 Corporate R&D Spenders are Magna International, Linamar, and Martinrea International, all auto parts manufacturers and technology suppliers. Magna makes High Voltage eDrives for EVs and hybrids. Linamar says it is "investing heavily in R&D, design/validation expertise and production equipment necessary to provide products needed in an electrified auto industry future." Of EVs and autonomous vehicles, Martinrea CEO Pat D'Eramo has said, "It’s great for us. The complexity of parts increases. The lightweighting needs are greater. It just advances where we want to go faster."

Canada has another unique advantage in developing its EV production capacity, wrote innovation minister Navdeep Bains in a recent column: "We are the only nation in the western hemisphere with an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel, the minerals needed to make next-generation electric batteries."

The ICCT paper also argues that hydrogen fuel cell technology offers a strategic opportunity for Canada, as "hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are expected to play a larger role in the electrification of the commercial vehicle sector." Canada already enjoys certain advantages in this space, including the fact that some regions have an excess of renewably sourced electricity to power fuel cells.


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