Advancing technology such as driverless cars, electrification and connectivity in the auto industry is becoming more prevalent. In order to expand their reach and apply industry standards, General Motors Canada (GMC) recently announced major investments in innovation technology and engineering based in their Oshawa plant and all over Southern Ontario.
GMC is eligible for funding of more than $200-million from the federal and Ontario Governments after agreeing to invest $500-million in its plants in Oshawa and St. Catharines. The funding will come from the federal government’s Automotive Innovation Fund and Ontario’s Jobs and Prosperity Fund.
But it’s not just about funding. GMC Oshawa has a rich history of innovation, and the automaker continues to refine its forward-thinking legacy by implementing 21st century technology into its latest models. In the same way, the company recognises the importance of local technology schools and universities which produce quality and technically astute employees.
“Let’s define innovation.”
Innovation is the introduction of something new.
A new idea. A new method. A new device.
So what does that mean for General Motors?
Let’s take a step back a little.
In order to look forward, we need to step back and explore the history of Oshawa. How did the automotive industry stamp such a large footprint on the city’s prosperity and its people? Why does that industry need to embrace technology in order to be successful in the future?
Oshawa is a city on the northern shore of Lake Ontario about 50 miles east of the provincial capital, Toronto. Innovation has been at the heart of Oshawa since 1876 when Robert S. McLaughlin relocated his company, the McLauglin Carriage Company to the city. The company soon developed into the largest carriage manufacturer in the British Empire.
By the 1900s the automobile had gained popularity. Seeing the potential for growth in this innovative sector, the McLaughlin family decided to gain a foothold in the market. In 1907 the company signed a contract with the Buick Motor Car Company of Michigan to use the Buick engine in the McLauglin car and began production.
In 1915, The McLaughlin company acquired the rights to build Chevrolets creating the Chevrolet Motor Car Company of Canada and three years after that the two companies merged to become General Motors of Canada Limited (GMC).
GMC continued to grow. By the late 1930s, it produced its millionth vehicle. Today the company can produce a million vehicles on its production line in one year. Its Oshawa plant is the hub of GMC’s manufacturing operation and is also North America’s largest integrated vehicle manufacturing plant.
In the 21stcentury GMC Oshawa is still at the forefront of leading edge innovation in the automobile industry. Working in partnership with post-secondary institutions such as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), they are developing research in innovative technologies to thrust the industry forward into the second half of the century.
These collaborations will help the local economy by accessing new and exciting innovative solutions and bring them to the marketplace.
What are GMC’s innovations now?
Lawrence Binns, GM’s vice-president for research and development and planning is also in charge of GM’s global product plan. He has been given the challenge of delivering a global product over the next five years which contains 50 per cent innovative cars and trucks. The remaining 50 per cent mainstream production must get innovative features or technologies that provide significant customer benefit.
In June, 2016. GM announced a major investment in its engineering and technology operations in Canada. With a fanfare for the media, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn joined Steve Carlisle, president of GM’s Canadian operations at the Oshawa plant to herald a new focus on the development of innovative state-of-the-art automotive systems and techno-advances for the future.
Carlisle knows Oshawa well. It was here, at the now shut down truck assembly plant, that he got his first start in the auto industry as a co-op student in 1982.
“The way I think of it in real simple terms is we need to be inventing things to manufacture, not relying on manufacturing things we have already invented,” said Carlisle at the announcement event in Oshawa on Jun. 10, 2016 as reported in the Financial Post. He said the new investment would, “put a stake into the ground on which we can anchor manufacturing in the future.”
So what does the future hold in terms of innovation?
Autonomous or driverless cars may seem like something from a science fiction movie. However, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. In Nov. 2016 the Ontario government announced a pilot project to test drive fully automated vehicles on public roads.
Craig Campbell, the retail training manager for GM Product Plus, spent a few hours at the Gus Brown Buick dealership in Whitby, Ont. and demonstrated some of the new features included in GMs most recent models.
Based at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Automotive Research, there will be three models tested over a 10-year period.
Campbell also indicated fully-autonomous vehicles are probably a couple of decades away. However, the semi-autonomous version has already made some inroads onto the market.
The move towards electric cars seems to have been hovering around the world of car manufacturing for decades. The North American market has been slow to embrace the concept, mainly due to the long distances and driver’s range anxiety of being stranded without any means of recharging the battery in sight.
Advances in battery technology, and the commitment of manufacturers such as GM to install charging stations along the highways, means the concept of the electric car is becoming more popular. According to CTV News it is estimated 2 million electric cars will be on the world’s roads by the end of 2016. In the first half of the year 312,000 plug-in vehicles were sold, almost a 50 per cent increase in the same period of the previous year.
“you never have to stop for gas again”
Tesla was the leader in manufacturing electric vehicles, but with a price tag of about $100,000, these eco-friendly cars have been beyond the means of the mass market. GM introduced the Chevrolet Bolt, a car fully powered on electricity, in the fall of 2016. With a price tag, of $40,000 and a driving range of 383km this is now an affordable and sustainable contender in the battery-powered car market.
GM has a strong position in new technology and innovation for over a decade. Its ownership of “On-Star” means it has been the market leader in vehicle connectivity. This technology means a vehicle is connected to the outside world.
Software which can connect to the car dashboard enables the driver to access GPS, maps, streaming music, weather and other smart phone-friendly applications to function within the display unit on the dashboard. The display looks like a magnified version of a regular cell phone.
“the only thing it has are driver friendly apps”
The display looks like a magnified version of a regular cell phone display, but the voice command function means the driver will never be distracted.
In order to keep up with the competition, GM announced it will hire an additional 750 new engineering positions, adding to the current 250 to boost the innovation imagination in Oshawa, Markham and Toronto. It will focus on Clean Energy Technology Systems and autonomous vehicle development.
“the connected car is not a scenario, it is our reality”
A promotional video shows how General Motors is expanding the engineering centre in Oshawa to be a hub for the connected car and the important role of Ontario universities play in producing quality technically savvy employees.
The automotive industry is expected to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 40. GM is expanding its Oshawa facility to be a hub for the connected car. Most of the most powerful technology companies recruit from Ontario universities.
The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa is also home to some leading edge technological research
Dr. Moustafa El-Gindy is an associate professor at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the university. He stressed the importance of preparing a new generation of innovation engineers for the challenges of the future workplace.
As well as working with corporations such as GM and Volvo in the autonomous vehicle advancements, the students are creating new inventions for the military in self-driving combat vehicles and tanks.
As well as working with corporations such as GM and Volvo in the autonomous vehicle advancements, the students are creating new inventions for the military in self-driving combat vehicles and tanks. Natalie Maheu is the leader of the manufacturing team at UOIT.
“we have to make sure these people are ready, they’re trained, so we can invent tomorrow’s vehicle”
The data scientists and technologists who graduate from UOIT need to find a place to hone their skills in the region, and GM just may be creating that environment right here in Oshawa. Furthermore, they must embrace the talent which is evolving on their doorstep.
It is clear there is no end point to this new wave of automobile advancement. Therefore, GM and other car manufacturers like it must turn away from the traditional policies they were built on. They need to attract a different sort of worker in order to proceed and succeed into the future. The data scientists and technologists who graduate from UOIT need to find a place to hone their skills in the region, and GM just may be creating that environment right here in Oshawa. Furthermore, they must embrace the talent which is evolving on their doorstep. If GM wants to avoid the same fate as the dinosaurs it must strive to keep this momentum going. Innovation and reinvention are now prerequisites to survival in the auto industry.
GM has already created a place in history for itself in the city of Oshawa. The manufacturer’s long history cements the company to the city to a point where the two names are synonymous with each other. Innovation and reinvention are now prerequisites to survival in the auto industry. Innovations such as driverless cars, electrification and vehicle connectivity are vital ‘must-haves’ for any new car which rolls off the line today. If GM wants to avoid the same fate as the dinosaurs it must strive to keep this momentum going.