Narayan KarEngineering professor Narayan Kar will join a national summit Tuesday to discuss the future of automotive.

CHARGE lab director to speak to future of automotive at Globe and Mail summit

Narayan Kar, director of the CHARGE lab (the Centre for Hybrid Automotive Research and Green Energy) and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, will join a panel discussing the future of automotive — which he says, means bringing the entire electric vehicle supply chain to Canada.

Canada Research Chair in Electrified Vehicles, Dr. Kar will be one of 12 industry experts speaking at the Globe and Mail’s fourth annual Future of Automotive Summit on Tuesday, Feb. 13, which will bring together experts, consumers, and tech innovators to share their thoughts on the challenges facing the sector and the evolution of driving in Canada.

With both the federal and provincial governments investing up to $15 billion in incentives and subsidies to bring the NextStar battery plant to Windsor and $13 billion for the Volkswagen EV battery plant in St. Thomas, Canada has displayed its intentions to position itself as a leader in the global EV supply chain, which Kar said requires investing in future talent and experts to drive that growth.

“There needs to be investment in re-skilling and upskilling — creating a new generation of engineers and researchers to be sustainable. I mean, you can build a battery factory or powertrain manufacturing facility, but you need to equip those facilities with qualified people,” Kar said.

He points to the “noise” that started after it was announced in November that NextStar Energy would be bringing around 900 temporary foreign workers from South Korea who have specialized knowledge of the equipment to help set up Canada’s first EV battery plant.

That’s where universities can step in, Kar said, to develop a meaningful curriculum for future engineers to feed this electrification supply chain.

“We need and at the same time, we want to be sustainable, because we cannot keep relying on foreign skilled workers. We need to have our workers in there to be successful and sustainable,” Kar said.

To do that, he said, investments need to be made in universities to develop specific electric vehicle-focused programs, which would require infrastructure, lab space, lab equipment, and more faculty and technicians.

“There needs to be support,” he said. “From the federal government, provincial government, so that we can offer those courses, graduate more masters, PhDs, to produce engineers and researchers to make the whole ecosystem not just successful, but also sustainable in the long term.”

Part of that long-term success, Kar said, is ensuring the supply chain is localized — building all components in Canada.

In the case of gasoline vehicles, parts regularly cross over the Ambassador Bridge several times into Michigan or Ohio back into Ontario before they make their way into a vehicle. But Kar said in the case of electric vehicles, that’s not possible due to the lithium-ion batteries they use.

“The automotive industry plays a big role in our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Over time, we’ve seen a decline in our global ranking for auto manufacturing and a decrease in both parts and automotive assembly employment. To reverse this trend or even to survive, it is important to establish a localized supply chain,” he said. “Which requires investments in developing supply chain as well as in the academic sector to train people capable of supporting and sustaining this supply chain.”

The federal government has also set out lofty goals when it comes to EVs, with new regulations to end the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. While Kar said investments in the NextStar and Volkswagen plants are good a start, investments in education will need to be made — and soon — to keep that momentum in Canada, he said.

“Otherwise, those plants should be run by people in countries that are already doing it,” he said. “But if it was ours, it will be ours forever. So that’s what we need to work on. That’s how we survived; we have led the automotive industry for the last 100-plus years. To keep this going, we must have a similar strategy that Windsor is a manufacturing city.

Just like traditional we should be able to build parts. Put them all together, build automobiles, and export. That’s what we have for gasoline. That’s what we must have for EV.”

Catch Kar and other experts further discussing the future of electric vehicles and automotive by tuning into the Future of Automotive Summit on Tuesday, Feb. 13.