The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES REQUIRE NEW TYPES OF TESTS
Automakers are constantly developing advanced vehicles and technologies but they have to meet federal regulations before getting to consumers. The existing standards don’t always apply to them, and that’s where Marc Belzile comes in.
As senior research officer at Transport Canada’s ecoTECHNOLOGY for Vehicles Program in Ottawa-Gatineau, he oversees testing that will help shape the safety and environmental regulations needed before these vehicles can get into showrooms.
“Over the next three years, our broad themes are electrification, alternative fuels, advanced technologies to reduce emissions and connected automated vehicles,” said Belzile. “I’m also involved in heavy-duty vehicle applications. For the most part, we look at what’s emerging soon. We don’t create new technologies but test something that’s ready, or almost ready, to commercialize.”
Belzile, 35, was always interested in cars and studied mechanical engineering at the University of Ottawa. He joined Transport Canada through a student work program in 2007 and stayed on. He moved into the leadership role four years ago.
“When I started, we were working with the first EVs [electric vehicles] and I was involved in how they work in cold conditions. We knew how to test gas cars through standard procedures and EVs didn’t quite fit, so we had to develop that.”
Standards changed quickly with advances in combustion engines, he said.
“Because reducing emissions was a big thing... the development of new regulations was in the works.”
Belzile occasionally shares information with his U.S. counterparts at the Environmental Protection Agency or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“But [our data] is specifically for Canada,” he said. “We want to keep our independence in testing. If there’s a new hybrid or electric, hypothetically, our test procedure might not [reflect] the actual performance of this new technology. We’re involved in how procedures could be modified when we need new methods.”
MOLDING THE BUSINESS TO SUPPLY THE INDUSTRY
The auto supply chain is long, and each link is vital to the process. At Cavalier Tool and Manufacturing in Windsor, Ont., Operations Manager Larry Caron “makes things that make things,” and in this case, plastic-injection molds.
“We’re a job shop,” said Caron, 55. “We make one of everything and then suppliers make thousands of that same part. [Cavalier] does a little bit of automotive work, but we just bought Mold Services International [in Windsor], and it makes interior and exterior trim, and under-hood parts.”
Caron wanted to be a mechanic but when he couldn’t find a job, he looked for trades that were hiring.
“Mold-making was heavy in Windsor and I liked working with my hands and getting dirty, so I went to St. Clair College [in Windsor] for it. I was hired straight out of the class by Cavalier in 1985. I apprenticed, became a full-fledged mold maker and then within five years I went into supervision.”
Cavalier Tool and Manufacturing Ltd. with 200 employees, produces molds for customers such as Tier 1 suppliers, Ford, Stellantis and some automakers based in Europe. Caron coordinates the operations required to produce a mold, including design reviews and troubleshooting.
Some molds require his specialized knowledge.
“An oil pan or valve cover has a sealing surface and it has to meet tolerance. We have to distort the mold to allow for shrinkage when the part cools.
“It’s called tuning the mold. It’s a combination of experience, technical knowledge and software simulations. The company does it as a team, but I oversee the whole thing to get it right.”
Caron juggles deadlines to ensure large orders are fulfilled on time, but that’s part of the appeal.
“If we just built regular tools with regular timing, I’d get bored. If somebody says something can’t be done, that’s what I like to do.”
FROM VAN SALES TO VENDORS, LEGAL MUST BE INVOLVED
Automakers can’t function without legal departments. As vice-president, general counsel and secretary of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Canada in Mississauga, Ont., Hina Latif provides legal guidance for the company.
“Everything we do is focused on compliance with all laws, particularly the multifaceted area of consumer privacy laws,” Latif said. She heads the legal team that also covers human resources; negotiations with suppliers, vendors and business partners; websites; financing and credit; and fleet agreements for Daimler Trucks.
In addition, she helps train newcomers to the legal department and is head of the company’s diversity and inclusion initiative.
“Part of our core value is to ensure people are respected. We are in a multicultural environment and hearing their viewpoints and perspectives is good for the bottom line of the business.”
Latif, 44, became a lawyer in her native London, England, before moving to Canada in 2003.
“I wanted something challenging and that would put me on a good path career-wise. I liked the business aspect, so I went into commercial law.”
After requalifying in Canada as a lawyer, Latif worked for GE Capital — the financial-services division of General Electric — moving to fleet-management services.
“This opportunity came up at Mercedes-Benz in 2018, and I had always been passionate about the brand and couldn’t say no.”
She heads a team of two other lawyers, articling students and an intern.
“On a typical day, as head of legal and as a member of the executive leadership team, I have a number of meetings on corporate strategy relating to dealers, customers and employees.
“We look at how we conduct internal procedures. With a lot of in-house, you’re not just advising the law, but trying to give a holistic view of the situation. Anything the business touches, you may have a hand in it with legal.”