Driving growth & innovation in the automotive sector: OSPE weighs in on GM’s announcement

Photo Credit: GM Canada

Today’s highly anticipated announcement at GM’s innovation lab in Oshawa – the Canadian Engineering Centre – delivered good news for Ontario’s engineers, with the promise of creating 1,000 cutting-edge jobs.

GM envisions future mobility as “electric, connected, autonomous and shared,” and the company is relying on Canadian engineering talent to deliver this new phase of growth and innovation to the automotive sector on a provincial, national and even international scale. The intention is to boost research and development (R&D) and innovation in the automotive sector in the Oshawa, Markham, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and Kapuskasing regions.

OSPE CEO Sandro Perruzza was one of many in attendance at today’s full house event, which included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne, who made a grand entrance in an electric Chevrolet Bolt.

GM Canada’s President and Managing Director Steven Carlisle, a Canadian-trained engineer himself, was one of the first to speak. Carlisle discussed the reasons why GM chose Canada as the hub of this innovative expansion, noting that Canada’s education system for engineers is second to none.

Carlisle then passed the podium off to GM Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain Mark Reuss, who elaborated that GM will be hiring 1,000 engineers over the next few years, with some of the hires already underway. GM currently has another 750 engineering positions to fill.

A number of these engineers will work out of GM’s Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa – which will replace the term ‘Engineering’ in its name with the word – ‘Technology’ – to more aptly describe the all-encompassing work being done at the centre. Operations will, however, outgrow this location given the new additions to the GM team. GM will also open an urban transportation innovation hub in East Toronto that will centre around the development and creation of electric and urban vehicles.

This ‘urban mobility hub’ will act as a sales, service, and information centre, but also incorporate an innovative public experience centre, where consumers can interact with and learn more about GM vehicles and the technology within them. The centre will allow drivers to get a full-picture experience of the functionality and operation of GM vehicles in an urban setting.

GM is also establishing a software engineering centre in Markham, which will be the main hub for software engineers and programmers. Lastly, the company announced that it will be expanding the capabilities of its test facility in Kapuskasing, enhancing the cold weather testing facility by doubling the test track link.

GM Canada will focus on the development of connected, autonomous vehicles and mobility systems. The new work can be broken down into three main components:

  1. Physical design of the vehicle: focusing on the vehicle’s mechanical parts, steering system and how it drives
  2. Powering the vehicle: focusing on new technological developments for power source options, hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and the like
  3. Vehicle communication: focusing on software and censors, and vehicle detection and control for the most efficient use of power

As Prime Minister Trudeau took to the stage, it became clear that the Prime Minister recognizes the critical link between engineering and innovation, stating that Canada’s engineers are among the best in the world. Trudeau reiterated that Canada’s biggest strength is in its people, which is why GM Global selected Ontario, and more specifically the GTA, as the global centre for innovation and R&D. He acknowledged that the nation is resting heavily on innovation because in order for Canada to be economically viable in the future, the country needs to be a strong player in this space.

Unlike the speakers before her, however, Premier Kathleen Wynne thanked GM, the federal government and the mayors of Oshawa and Markham for their partnership in this endeavour, with no mention of Ontario’s engineers. While Wynne noted the importance of manufacturing and innovation in Ontario, she disappointingly overlooked the important connection between engineers and innovation. In an almost a campaign-style speech, Wynne discussed how this growth in innovation and job creation is a testimony to her party’s economic plan and all of the work that ‘her province’ is doing to draw business to Ontario.

Despite evidence that there is still much room for improvement when it comes to getting the engineering profession the recognition and platforms for change that it deserves, OSPE is optimistic about the new opportunities that the GM innovation expansion holds for Ontario’s engineers. OSPE will continue to follow GM’s updates on the progress of the expansion and the new engineering hires. We will continue to reiterate that innovation and sustainable economic growth are not possible without the work of engineers.

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