The ICE age — the era of the internal combustion engine — is ending. The future is electrification — and the members of the US-Canada AutoPact are hoping to be its leaders.
Ever since the 1965 AutoPact united the American and Canadian auto industry, the Great Lakes region has enjoyed years as the global hub of automotive R&D and production, cross-border collaboration and mutual benefits, from talent attraction to investment.
But the future of the industry, and mobility, look quite different from those carbon-based roots. The sector is now defined by the move to electrification, the autonomous vehicle, and an industry that’s sprawled around the globe, disrupted by tech startups.
Where does the bi-national Great Lakes region, home to the Model-T, the assembly line, and master of mass production fit into this future?
“We have automotives in our DNA, but things are changing,” Steve Mackenzie, President of Invest WindsorEssex, recently said.
And it starts with electrification. Passenger cars, trucks, and minivans make up the majority of transportation’s carbon emissions. People want electric cars, and they wanted them yesterday.
The bi-national Great Lakes region rose to the top of automotive production based on that old ICE age paradigm, making it difficult for tech startups to bring innovation to the sector. Now, since producing batteries for Electric Vehicles is the price of entry, there’s room for new competition and innovative thinking.
The Great Lakes region’s Big Three: Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler, but also well-established foreign car companies that reside there, like Toyota, Honda and Nissan, don’t have the same stronghold on the industry that they’ve had up until now. As a result, they are embracing innovation and innovators.
“By working together to explore and advance new and innovative mobility technologies, we’re taking steps to ensure Ontario and Michigan stay at the forefront of the evolving transportation industry,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, said of Michigan and Ontario’s new cross-border testbed for mobility solutions.
It doesn’t stop with the new team-boundary partnership - cutting edge initiatives are popping up across the region, and getting electric vehicle production at home is front and centre on leaders’ vision boards.
Ford is converting its Oakville Assembly Plant into an EV plant with talks of including battery assembly, and the help of 590 million dollars from the provincial and federal government.
The Biden administration wants to invest 174 million into EV production in Michigan.
Michigan has also partnered with SK Siltron to boost U.S. jobs in EV production, through a 300 million dollar investment.
Innovation goes beyond getting home-grown EV production plants though.
New software and data technology are making Project Arrow’s first all-Canadian zero carbon concept vehicle possible.
Hubs like Ford’s Michigan Central are integrating innovation right into city cores, developing and testing autonomous and connected vehicles, smart roads, and other new technology in historic Corktown, Detroit.
The car changed the way we all lived, and the Great Lakes region was at the heart of the transformation. Now the car can help us take big steps towards a net zero future. Can the Great Lakes region help to change the world, again?
There are leaders in the industry who certainly think so. There’s a re-emergence shaping up in the Great Lakes region, one that could see the cross-border cluster lead the way in the next generation of urban transportation, just like it did the last.