A driver was behind the wheel in late September when the test vehicle pulled into the Autonomous Vehicle Research and Intelligence Lab at the University of Waterloo. But if all goes well over the next five years, that Jeep Grand Cherokee might leave the southwestern Ontario lab without a human foot on the pedals.
Outfitted with a series of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), the SUV is part of a $1.6-million partnership between the university and parts supplier Magna International Inc.
The collaboration, designed to enhance the safety and cybersecurity of self-driving vehicles, is among the growing number of research and development efforts aimed at sharpening Canada’s competitive edge in the global race to electrify vehicles and equip them with autonomous systems.
But experts interviewed by Automotive News Canada are divided over whether the domestic sector can compete with industry superpowers such as China and the United States.
INNOVATION NATION? YES
Canada has the right mix of automotive and tech know-how to become a centre for innovation, said Ross McKenzie, managing director of the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR).
“I’m a firm believer that we’ve punched above our weight in the past, and with continued effort, we will find more of those opportunities and to continue to punch above our weight,” McKenzie said. WatCAR has more than 100 researchers working with automakers, parts suppliers and other industry players to tackle projects ranging from weight reduction on the components side to ADAS in the industry’s fast-growing software segment. Similar institutional auto research hubs — and startup incubators such as Communitech in Waterloo and the DMZ at Ryerson University in Toronto — have grown up along the TorontoWaterloo corridor.
For Ontario, which is the driving force of Canada’s auto sector, the shift to electric vehicles presents the opportunity to be involved in every step of the process, said Victor Fedeli, the province’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade.
The province’s strategy extends across a significant portion of the EV supply chain, running from resource extraction through design to battery manufacturing and vehicle assembly. Fedeli wants it all done in-province.
The government is currently working to help companies tap Ontario’s reserves of cobalt for use in batteries as well as courting several EV battery manufacturers looking to set up shop in the province, Fedeli said.
A ROAD TO EV SUPPLY CHAIN