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DUBITSKY: LOST OPPORTUNITIES SHOW COST OF CANADA’S MORIBUND CLEANTECH MANUFACTURING STRATEGY

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While General Motors is tying its decision to close its Oshawa, Ontario manufacturing facility to the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles, GM is not the only casualty of Canada’s inaction on clean transportation policy.

Other companies in the space are shifting their activities outside of Canada, opportunities within Canada are being missed, and Canadian cleantech leaders are losing their global competitive advantage, all for lack of a coherent national cleantech manufacturing strategy.

TM4 is one of several examples. The company is a world leader in electric vehicle motor powertrains. But its main manufacturing facility is in China, the world’s largest electric vehicle market, where TM4 products are produced under licence by Prestolite e-Propulsion Systems.

As electric vehicles proliferate globally, the U.S. Big 3 are idle

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Electric vehicles have been around for some time, but global automakers have been reluctant to migrate because doing so represents the biggest technological revolution since the Ford Model T.

This revolution entails scrapping a century of incremental investments in the internal combustion engine and replacing it with a 100 per cent different set of propulsion technologies, along with all the requirements to design their vehicles differently. This means it would take many years for automakers to recover their investments in electric vehicles (EVs), all while there are big profits to be made on conventional pick-ups and SUVs.

While North America’s automakers have been sluggish to respond, manufacturers elsewhere are prepared to comply with Chinese and European Union requirements for a migration to zero- and low-emission vehicles.

Electric vehicle battery recycling: Competing with mined materials

The environmental footprint of an electric vehicle represents a sectorial industrial revolution, including the first lifecycle end of an EV battery.  With existing technologies, 95% of an EV battery can be recycled for inclusion in a new EV battery and/or energy storage.  The remaining 5% can be handled by third party recyclers.  Because the price of mined lithium is rising exponentially, recycled EV battery materials are set to compete with mined content.  The result is massive investments underway and planned for EV recycling, especially in China and Europe.  The U.S federal government is supporting EV battery recycling and there is a nascent industry in Canada.  But there remains a colossal challenge for the Canadian national and provincial governments to assure Canada is a major player alongside China and Europe.

Fossil fuel sector contrasts: Green transition engaged, but not enough

Not all Big Oil firms are alike. Some are engaged in a rapid green migration, many are sitting on the fence and others are still in climate denial. Meanwhile, the value of fossil fuel assets are declining but the industry is camouflaging this by selling assets and debt financing to keep shareholders happy.

Trudeau’s climate greenwashing mayhem

Justin Trudeau announced another of his Liberal government’s green plans in December. I have lost track of how many green plans we have had, but not a single one has met its targets. With the prime minister set to officially meet with the new U.S. president Tuesday, the Liberals’ environmental agenda looks embarrassingly unambitious by comparison.

Raising the price of carbon is one of the pillars of the government’s latest plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But there are no magic bullets and piecemeal measures don’t work.

The new U.S. administration has announced plans for an international climate conference led by President Biden on April 22, which is Earth Day.

In other regions that have carbon pricing mechanisms, such as the European Union and China (with its pilot schemes), climate change abatement plans consist of many complementary measures, including stringent legislation.

Stalled: why North America lags as China and Europe lead the way on electric vehicles

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There’s not much urgency about tackling climate change and driving the switch to electric vehicles in Canada’s new federal budget. There are some incentives and voluntary targets for EVs but, on balance, the budget is an example of the mediocre policies holding North America back from catalysing the migration to electric vehicles (EVs). We now have proof from around the world that strong policies are what drives change.

China has disruptive legislation accompanied by a plethora of complementary measures. Canadian/North American initiatives are mild while the European Union is somewhere in between. The results are that China already offers a wide selection of EVs and sales are already booming, the European migration to EVs is imminent while North American governments and automakers are lagging behind, with modest exceptions in some progressive U.S. states and Québec and B.C..

These differences are important because the transportation sector accounts for approximately 60 per cent of oil consumption. Three studies confirm that even a moderate penetration of EVs will have devasting impacts on the petroleum sector. Even Shell believes peak oil is imminent and is engaged in major strides to migrate to clean tech and become the world’s largest power company.

The North American lack of urgency makes it harder for us to stop runaway climate change and even threatens the future of the North American auto industry.