Canada missing opportunities to develop EV manufacturing?

Rating: High school and post-secondary

Summary: Markham interviews Joanna Kyriazis, senior policy advisor, about Clean Energy Canada’s new report, “Taking the Wheel,” which argues that Canada isn’t moving fast enough to develop its electric vehicle manufacturing sector.

Related links:

Get serious about EV manufacturing, British Columbia

California electrifies big trucks

5-point plan for better (electric) Canadian transit – CUTRIC

Harbour Air likes PST exemption on electric planes

Big push for big electric trucks

This interview has been lightly edited.

Markham Hislop:  Clean Energy Canada has released a really important study on electrification of transportation in Canada. I’ll be talking about electric vehicle manufacturing with Joanna Kyriazis from Clean Energy Canada.

There’s a section in your study that really caught my attention and I’m going to frame it like this: When I interviewed Tony Seba a couple of weeks ago on my podcast, he said that cheap, clean electricity and electric vehicles were going to change the world during the 2020s the same way that petroleum and internal combustion engine changed the world in the 1920s. And you have a section on electrification, and I don’t think we can emphasize how important it is for Canadians to understand, that the global economy is going electric. And we either get on board, in this case with vehicles, or we get left behind.

What’s your take?

Source: Taking the Wheel, Clean Energy Canada, 2020.

Joanna Kyriazis:  Absolutely. I’ll break down our report. It starts off by talking about what we’ve been calling Canada’s Car Conundrum. So there are two troubling trends we’re seeing – transportation emissions have been going up over the last 20 years, largely because Canadians are choosing to drive heavier and higher polluting vehicles, pickup trucks, and SUV’s. Meanwhile, our auto sector has been on the decline. So manufacturing is down. Job numbers are down over that same time period.

Zero-emission vehicles are the opportunity that can help solve both of these problems. So we need to get more Canadians in electric vehicles and we need to be making more of those vehicles here. Now, happy to go into your comment on the cheap and clean electricity and how that’s an opportunity for our transportation sector – would you like me to now?

Markham Hislop:  No, let’s save that for the next question. I think this is an important point because 70 per cent or 80 per cent of Canadian electricity is already low carbon and 60 per cent of it is hydro. So almost it’s as clean as it gets. Once we get Alberta and Saskatchewan coal-fired power out of the grid it’ll be close closer to 90 per cent plus. So we’ve already got a huge advantage and we have good resources, wind and solar resources all across the country, particularly in Alberta. If there was a country poised to take advantage of electrification, it has got to be Canada.

Joanna Kyriazis:  Yes. And so both in terms of emissions – plugging into Canada’s grid is really gonna decarbonize the transportation sector. That is true across the country. Our report finds that even in those provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta that have more coal or natural gas powering their electrical grid, there are still emissions savings to be had by going electric. And the great thing about EVs is that their emission performance is only going to improve over time as we decarbonize our grid, as we phase out coal. The same does not hold true for a gas car.

Source: Taking the Wheel, Clean Energy Canada, 2020.

Markham Hislop:  We’re getting a little bit of our investment from companies like Fiat-Chrysler in electric vehicles, GM and Ford. They’re going to make some investment in EV manufacturing in Canada, but we’re still on the light-duty side. We’re still basically a branch plant economy. We’re no different than we were with gas-powered cars. What’s your take? Is there an opportunity for us to increase our global market share and emerge from under the shadow of the branch plants?

Source: Taking the Wheel, Clean Energy Canada, 2020.

Joanna Kyriazis:  Canada currently under-performs on our EV production compared to our gas-powered vehicle production. The other countries that are producing gas-powered vehicles are producing EVs at around the same percentage of the global market.

Now the investments that we saw recently from Ford Motor and Fiat-Chrysler, that’s great news, it means that those kind of incumbent auto makers are making the shifts and building some of their cars of the future here in Canada. But what we’ve seen when you look at the zero-emission vehicle industry kind of writ large, is that a lot of the job potential and economic opportunity isn’t just around making those major automakers go electric.

It’s actually about attracting new investment from new manufacturers, whether it’s car companies like Tesla or other startups. And then it’s also looking at opportunities in other parts of the supply chain, primarily battery manufacturing. That’s where a lot of the jobs in zero-emission vehicle industry are.

And Canada’s really well-positioned to compete on battery manufacturing given some of the ingredients that we already have, whether it’s the raw metals and minerals like lithium, cobalt. We’re leading battery researchers. We’ve got Tesla’s battery research lab in Kitchener. We’ve got a lithium-ion battery pioneer at the University of Dalhousie.

So we’re well-positioned, but we haven’t taken any of the steps that we need to get that battery manufacturing investment, or ramp up capacity there.

Markham Hislop:  I’m going to criticize Justin Trudeau here because he talks a good game on this topic. Some of the premiers do, but they really hasn’t delivered.

Speaking of premiers, John Horgan in BC has made a big deal out of the increase in their support for EV manufacturing in the province. It went from 1 million to $4 million. That’s not even Tesla’s coffee fund. That’s sad when we think that that’s a big commitment to EV manufacturing.

And the federal government hasn’t done much better. They’ve put a lot of money into subsidizing the purchase of cars that are made elsewhere, but not in manufacturing in Canada. And so we should call out Justin Trudeau. We need a national strategy, figure out how all the provinces and the different supply chains and so on fit into it. And somebody to drive the bus because we’re not making any progress at this rate.

Source: Taking the Wheel, Clean Energy Canada, 2020.

Joanna Kyriazis:  Yes. But one of my colleagues really what she loves to say, and I find this analogy really compelling: “we’ve got all the ingredients to build electric vehicles in Canada, but now we’ve got to make bake the cake” and that’s going to require a more deliberate visioning process and auto strategy.

Source: Taking the Wheel, Clean Energy Canada, 2020.

If you look at the leading jurisdictions out there, when it comes to both driving and building cars, the UK, Germany, France, they are putting forward full clean car packages. So yes they’re helping consumers purchase EVs through rebates, they’re investing in charging infrastructure. They’re also pushing from the regulatory side – getting automakers to improve the emission performance of their cars, which means more and more zero-emission vehicles.

But then finally, they’ve got auto strategies where they’ve got battery competitions. They are securing critical metals and minerals to make sure that they’ve got that supply. And they’ve got supply chains that they can rely on. The EU is trying to become as close to becoming fully self-reliant when it comes to battery manufacturing and EV manufacturing.

So they’re thinking about those pieces and they’re pulling the right levers. Canada’s not. We’re sort of just hoping it happens by accident.

Markham Hislop:  Boy, if that wasn’t a great description of the Canadian approach to a lot of what’s going on, I don’t know what it is. And so let’s end on an optimistic note. One of the things that you and I have talked about this in previous interviews is the importance of the medium and heavy-duty EV manufacturing sector. So we’re talking about buses, we’re talking about freight trucks, we’re talking about delivery vans, those kinds of vehicles.

That’s a side of the industry that is not set in stone yet. The structure of the industry is still a fluid. There are new players and there’s lots of market share that could still be had if we were aggressive and got into it. What’s your take?

Joanna Kyriazis:  Yeah, I think especially the medium-duty vehicles, like the bus segments – that’s taking off pretty rapidly. There’s not a lot of public opposition to electric buses. Everybody loves them. Nobody needs to worry about driving them except for the transit agencies, but they’re really on board.

We have a lot of North American leading bus and truck manufacturers in Canada. And what’s great is that they’re not just located in Ontario, they’re coming from BC and Quebec and Manitoba.

Now what we need to make sure we’re doing in Canada is building out our domestic demand. We need to be moving forward on policies, whether it’s our emission vehicle standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles like California’s put in place or procurement requirements where we’re seeing requirements that cities and provinces or federal governments are needing to electrify their fleet.

But if we don’t build out the domestic market what’s going to happen, and what we’re seeing happen, is that our Canadian manufacturers, when they’re choosing where they want to set up their next manufacturing facilities, they’re choosing places like California to be closer to where the demand is.

Markham Hislop:  Yeah. We see that already with New Flyer in Manitoba, which has been around for decades and is a leader in this field. And where did they set up their research? I think it was in St. Cloud, Minnesota, just across the border. And some of them have gotten, as you say, to California.

So anyway, this sector is crying out for political and national leadership.

Facebook Comments

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.