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LILLEY: Ford government unveils auto strategy details Wednesday


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As Ontario’s auto industry hangs in the balance due to protectionist measures in the United States, the Ford government in Ontario is set to unveil the latest phase of its auto strategy.

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The plan bets heavy on making Ontario a hub of electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing as the industry moves in that direction and governments around the world mandate the use of EVs.

Premier Doug Ford will join Economic Development Minister Vic Fideli in Guelph Wednesday to make the announcement at auto parts maker Linamar.

Dubbed “Driving Prosperity: The Future of Ontario’s Automotive Sector,” phase 2 of the plan lays out the ambitious goal of having 400,000 electric and hybrid vehicles built in Ontario by 2030.

Currently, only two models — hybrids Chrysler Pacifica and Lexus RX 450 — are assembled in Ontario.

In October 2020, Ford Canada announced that it would transform the company’s Oakville assembly plant into an electric vehicle manufacturing facility, while General Motors has announced the production of electric commercial vehicles — aimed at the delivery market — in Ingersoll.

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Every automaker present in Canada is committed to future electric vehicle production. Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, said he welcomes the Ford government’s announcement.

“The plan is thoughtful and realistic and while it challenges the industry with targets, those targets are real,” Volpe said.

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Phase 2 of the plan will also put a focus on something Premier Doug Ford has been pushing in public for more than a year: making sure Ontario is a centre for not only mining the materials for electric vehicle batteries but making them here.

Ontario not only has the manufacturing capacity, but also many of the minerals used in electric vehicle batteries can be mined in northern Ontario. The strategy being announced Wednesday seeks to establish a supply chain system between mines in northern Ontario and manufacturing facilities in southern Ontario.

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“We would like to manufacture the batteries here rather than bringing them in from out of country,” Ford said in September 2020. “We have the capabilities. We have the raw materials here.”

Since then, Ford has been on a push to secure at least one electric vehicle battery plant in Ontario. Chrysler’s parent company, Stellantis, is looking for up to two locations in North America, but Ontario’s chances are being hindered by the protectionist measures currently being debated in Washington.

President Joe Biden is backing the Build Back Better Act which would offer consumers a rebate of $12,500 to purchase a new electric vehicle if that vehicle is assembled in the United States with 50% American parts and an American-made battery. The move has been described as potentially more damaging to Canada’s auto industry than any of the protectionist measures put forward by former president Donald Trump.

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On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to Washington for the so-called Three Amigos Summit where the auto industry will be front and centre. So far, no one in the Biden administration has shown any indication that they will back away from the measures.

“I’m aware of concerns that our trading partners have raised, and we care about these concerns,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said last week in Washington.

Caring about those concerns and acting on them are two different things.

On Wednesday, the Ford government will unveil what could be the most significant auto strategy for the province in years.

It has the potential to not only secure the existing industry that is here, but also grow the province’s auto sector. However, achieving those goals requires Trudeau to be successful in his dealings with Washington.

The Americans, regardless of party, are turning inward just after signing a new trade deal with Canada.

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