I didn’t quite know what I was getting into four years ago.
In August 2017, I moved from Detroit to become Automotive News Canada’s first Toronto bureau reporter. Being asked to cover a rapidly changing Canadian auto industry from one of the world’s best cities was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Little did I know just how transformative the next four years would be for the business.
I’m leaving Automotive News Canada in the coming weeks to return to reporting on the industry in the United States for sibling publication Automotive News. The transition has left me thinking about the past four years covering the sector in Canada, and it’s striking just how much has happened in that timespan.
When I began my Canadian assignment, it was common to compare the state of the industry to that of Australia, where a once-booming auto manufacturing sector died out It was never a perfect comparison, given Canada’s location next to the massive auto market in the United States. But it wasn’t hard to figure out why stakeholders were worried.
Oshawa Assembly was on life support and there were questions surrounding the longterm prospects of most of the Detroit Three’s assembly plants in Canada.
Fast-forward four years and most of those factories have received billion-dollar investments, as have Toyota’s Canadian operations. Questions, of course, hover over Stellantis’ Brampton Assembly Plant, but it’s safe to say things are more stable than they have been in a long while on the manufacturing front.
Automotive retail, too, has gone through a transformative period, as our dealer readers know better than anyone. The shift to online retailing was already well under way before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. But the emergence of that terrible virus and the ensuing economic shutdowns forced an industry that has often been slow to change to think seriously about new ways to connect with customers digitally.
As a result, Canadian dealers and their automakers will be better off in the long run.
As I’ve written before, I’ve been struck over the past year and a half by just how resilient Canadian auto retailers have proved to be in the face of not only unprecedented economic shutdowns, but also the global microchip shortage that has decimated new-vehicle inventory. It has been a long time since it has been business as usual at your average Canadian dealership. Many retailers I’ve spoken with over the past year, however, have been invigorated by the challenges they face, seeing them as an opportunity to revamp their businesses and position themselves for long-term success.
The industry in Canada still faces many challenges, but I can’t help thinking it will emerge from these crises stronger. And it’s in large part due to the dedication, creativity and perseverance of everyone from dealers to suppliers, executives to autoworkers, and more.
It was an honour to cover many of your stories and to have worked with some of the best reporters and editors in the business to do so. I’m excited to see what the future holds for an industry that appears determined to overcome adversity.