The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
NEVER THE SAME DAY TWICE FOR SOLVING IN-CAR SYSTEMS
When drivers tap their screens or give voice commands, Kugatheesan Linganathan ensures there’s a quick response.
“Our team looks at performance for our in-vehicle software,” said the 36-year-old senior software developer at Ford Canada.
“We do everything related to the centre stack and how fast things boot up.”
Linganathan moved to Canada in 1998 from Sri Lanka, fleeing the civil war, and studied computer engineering at Ryerson University in Toronto. “I was good at math and science, and I was doing well with those subjects. I did my internship at [electronics company] Celestica, and then I did performance work at BlackBerry, mostly with the [operating systems] and mobile market.”
In 2017, Ford and BlackBerry struck a partnership, and Linganathan was among 300 BlackBerry employees who joined the automaker. He now works with teams that develop software, or who integrate third-party programs into the vehicles.
“If someone switches from AM to FM, for example, we come up with a target to make sure it’s as quick and efficient as possible. If it takes two seconds, our team will say it has to be 50 milliseconds. We work with the team, identify problems, and make that happen.”
There are teams for each function, such as Bluetooth, push-to-talk, or voice recognition. Linganathan’s team oversees the whole system, working with the software developers that contribute to the infotainment system.
Linganathan said his 10 years working with cell phones gave him the necessary experience.
“I know what we’re dealing with, and I can adapt easily to new technology. And the job is interesting. Today I’ll be working with start-up order, tomorrow with someone whose software is not reacting to user input. It’s new every day.”
PREVENTING DRUNK DRIVING WORLDWIDE, FROM CANADA
Impaired driving continues to be a problem, and it’s Felix Comeau’s mission to help prevent it. He’s the CEO of Alcohol Countermeasure Systems in Toronto, which develops and supplies ignition interlocks to vehicle manufacturers.
“The company has been around almost 40 years,” said Comeau, 71. “The first ignition interlock was installed in a convicted drinking driver’s vehicle in Colorado in 1985, and it was ours. We had trouble with [the early ones] in the cold, so we redesigned them to meet -40C and it was successful.”
Comeau graduated McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., as a biochemist, and joined the RCMP’s crime lab in forensics. “My specialty was alcohol. I was teaching the police breath testing, which was new in those days. I became specialized in the equipment, and I tested and investigated products that would be suitable in Canada.
“One of the companies involved was Alcohol Countermeasure Systems. I was asked if I’d like to join in r&d, and a year later in 1978, I did. I became general manager, and then became president in 1986.”
The company is the only manufacturer that’s certified worldwide to directly supply the vehicle industry. It sells to Volvo for European use, supplies global mining and petrochemical equipment manufacturers, and along with competitors, makes devices to put in convicted drivers’ vehicles in North America. Comeau is currently working to enter the French market under its new interlock regulations, and on a pilot project to put the devices in U.S. school buses.
“We continue to develop leading products. You might say ‘what’s the difference, they all measure alcohol,’ but we have to measure how the vehicle tolerates the device, how it might be cheated, how the data goes back to regulatory authorities. We have to innovate how we meet the challenges of our customers and regulatory authorities.”
MULTIPLE ROLES AT TOYOTA MEANS ‘NO TYPICAL DAYS’
Automakers have to do more than just reach out to customers; they also have to work with regulators an manufacturing. To do this, Scott MacKenzie is senior national manager of external affairs for both Toyota Canada and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada
“I don’t have typical days,” said MacKenzie, 44. “I have responsibility for government affairs, corporate communications, and product public relations. I could be dealing with steel and aluminum tariffs, and then be at the proving grounds with a future vehicle, trying to understand its capability. I interface between the company and anything external, whether it’s government, industry associations, or journalists.”
Interested in world issues, MacKenzie earned a bachelor of arts in environmental studies at the University of Waterloo, Ont. Unable to find a job in that field, he went to Toyota and has been there ever since. He began in manufacturing and quality control and did that for five years, and then moved into supplier preparation and development, where he managed new-model vehicle launches. He was asked to rotate into corporate planning, and when an opening came up in government affairs, he added it to his position.
“I became proficient at it. I was heavily involved in NAFTA, and we attracted a $220-million investment from the provincial and federal governments.
“Someone asked if I wanted to try more of external affairs, and I’ve done that for the last year. I understand how cars are made, sold, and distributed, and I’ve always had a capacity for learning new things.”
MacKenzie works with a team of 12 across the two companies, and he divides his time between the offices.
“I’ve interfaced with a lot of different groups, so if I have a challenge, I know who to ask. That helped me get to where I am today.”