How fortunate would you be to get 30 minutes with Magna’s Don Walker, GM Canada’s Steve Carlilse or Unifor’s fiery president Jerry Dias? What if you could get 30 minutes with all of them — one right after the other — and many others such as Aston Martin’s Andy Palmer, Nissan Canada boss Joni Paiva and new Ford Canada President Mark Buzzell? What you could you learn?
The first Automotive News Canada Congress was held Feb. 16-17 in conjunction with Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto and provided a rare and valuable snapshot of the issues the industry faces. And some real opportunity, as it turns out.
The speakers have different viewpoints on the same situation, but make no mistake, most are in exactly the same situation: grappling with new technology that someone else will master if they cannot. Maria Soklis from Cox Automotive Canada said that dealers need to be thinking about completing deals 100 per cent online. Don Walker says Magna is investing in more than 30 start-up tech companies. Nearly every industry speaker realizes that more electric cars and autonomous driving are coming, although few can agree on when and how. Technology is only part of that equation. Legislation, cost and public acceptance appear to be far greater mountains to scale.
The real elephant in the room, however, was U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policy — whatever that is — and the effect it might have on the Canadian auto industry, an industry that has been bleeding jobs for years while barely hanging on to existing factories. But what could have been a very gloomy conversation was actually quite the opposite.
Unifor’s Dias has strong opinions as to why the Canadian industry has teetered: bad trade deals and the previous federal Conservative government that, Dias says, just didn’t care. Many are fearful of Trump’s policy, but others, Dias included, think that renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement opens up all sorts of possibilities for an industry resurgence. That and a federal Liberal government that seems to understand that the industry needs help to be more competitive with industry in other countries.
In fact, Ontario Minister of Economic Development Brad Duguid and Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains both spoke at the Congress, pledging support for Canadian industry, especially technology.
The upshot? Canada has a real shot at growth.