A popular meme going around during the summer was a joke stating that COVID-19 has done far more for digitizing the world of business than any Chief Technology Officer out there. This widespread digital adoption is very true on a superficial level—we are all now veterans of Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and “you’re still on mute” was the phrase of the world of work in 2020.

However, it will take a lot more work to move this digital transition beyond the superficial to push traditional industries into embracing this change. This need for digital transition is essential for the automotive industry.

They say the automotive industry of the future is going digital—and many would agree we have already arrived. The automotive industry of 2021 is a digital playground filled with technology beyond our wildest dreams. On January 11, we learned about automotive plant shutdowns across North America and Europe because they did not have enough silicon chips to meet demand. You think silicon only lives in California? Think again. It is now the key ingredient to building a car.

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Autotech is one area where if you want your automotive industry to succeed, you need to invest. We are fortunate that Ontario has seen this investment and has developed a comprehensive autonomous, connected, electric and sharing (ACES) infrastructure that keeps our auto industry strong.

From my home in Munich, I can see the distinctive headquarters of BMW. It is a stark reminder of the country’s prowess in the automotive industry. In my role as the representative of Ontario in Germany and Austria, we work with some of the biggest names in the world: BMW, Volkswagen, Schaeffler, AVL and dozens of others. So, when we say that Ontario has one of the world’s greatest automotive technology ecosystems, these giants know if we are telling the truth or not. They can compare Ontario’s autotech industry to that of Munich, Shanghai, Barcelona, or hundreds of other places in the world that are making this claim.

So, how do we back up our position that Ontario is an autotech leader?

  1. First off, virtually every automobile built today has Ontario-made technology inside, courtesy of BlackBerry QNX. We offer a unique confluence of the traditional manufacturing economy with five original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and hundreds of suppliers producing two-million cars per year—and a tech economy with the second largest and fastest-growing ecosystem in North America.
  2. Our automotive industry is connected through an innovation corridor extending from Oshawa to Waterloo and beyond. Easy access to our automotive hubs by road or rail positions Ontario as a location ripe for collaboration. For example, a tech company in downtown Toronto can take public transit to the Ford production facility in Oakville, just 20 km away. And with that plant slated to become one of the epicentres of Ford’s electric vehicle production, the opportunities to grow within the province are endless. This crossover between manufacturing and technology does not happen in places like Silicon Valley or Detroit.
  3. Ontario is building automotive technology for all four of the ACES: autonomous, connected, electric and sharing. As I write this article, the government has provided funding to the shared mobility start-up Joyride, one of many Ontario companies looking at how we can incorporate ride sharing into day-to-day mobility. Another Ontario company, Hydrogenics, recently bought by Cummins, provides fuel cells to regular service trains, with orders from Germany, Austria and Italy. The province is even bringing the raw materials for the electric revolution, with First Cobalt building a $77-million cobalt refinery in Northern Ontario and Li-Cycle providing commercial scale recycling of used batteries, recovering 95% of the raw materials from Lithium-ion batteries.
  4. Finally, Ontario is truly a leader in autonomous vehicle technology and production. Nowadays, every jurisdiction claiming to be an automotive powerhouse has an autonomous test track. But Ontario’s autonomous vehicle sector is unique. The province is home to the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) and Area X.O., who are looking at how to improve every aspect of autonomous driving, from 3D mapping to V2X communications, to incubating talent, to building automobiles. This remarkable cohesion of technological innovation and manufacturing production strikes a chord with an OEM or a Tier 1 supplier and gives them confidence that Ontario is on the right path to building an automobile ecosystem for the next decade.

Article written by Chris Begley, Senior Economic Officer, Germany, for Invest Ontario