When the federal and Ontario governments began hinting last fall at imminent investments in Canada’s electric-vehicle battery supply chain, I was more than a bit skeptical.
Canada’s potential for hosting its own battery ecosystem played well in ministerial speeches. But after two decades of slow decline in the country’s auto-manufacturing sector, it wasn’t the first set of talking points that governments dreamed up to try to reignite the industry.
Now, however — as pledges, promises and billions of dollars in battery supplier and automaker spending testify — Canada is pitching corporate actors a compelling sell sheet, blending the promise of U.S. market access with raw-material supply, a strong environmental record and government support.
As the auto sector enters uncharted territory, government has been “trying to find something to hang their hat on,” said Sam Fiorani vice-president of global vehicle forecasting at U.S.-based AutoForecast Solutions (AFS). So far, he said, the battery-heavy strategy is helping Canada “stay relevant.”
On Aug. 23, Volkswagen Group and Mercedes-Benz Group signed memorandums of understanding with the Government Canada as a way to secure access to much-needed minerals such as nickel, cobalt and lithium for battery production.
But even more concretely, $1.5-billion commitment in July from Belgium’s Umicore to build an EV battery materials plant near Kingston, Ont., is an example of how Canadian economic development teams have flipped the script on two decades of automotive attrition.
Government narratives about the strength of combining Canada’s raw materials with its advanced-manufacturing base are resonating with industry because an integrated North American supply chain is what the automotive industry needs, said Conrad Layson, senior alternative-propulsion analyst at AFS.
“That’s what I think Canada really brings to the table,” he said. “It’s the ability to bring [raw materials] out of the dirt and into your car.”