In the heartland of Canada’s car industry, the country’s first innovation centre dedicated to the future of mobility is quickly taking shape. Launched in November, the so-called Canadian Automobility Hub in Windsor-Essex will help start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) generate and commercialise ideas designed to drive the next era of transportation.

The multi-faceted hub works as an accelerator and follows the ‘triple-helix’ model by involving the public sector, private sector and universities. Critically, it has the backing of German engineering and e-mobility firm PEM Motion. 

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Stephen MacKenzie, chief of Invest WindsorEssex which is spearheading the hub, sat down with fDi to explain its benefits. 

Q: What are the hub’s various branches and activities? 

A: The hub consists of a new private company called Automobility Enterprises, which will act as the ramp-up factory. It contains all the machinery necessary for entrepreneurs and SMEs to develop and manufacture mobility prototypes. Then there is Automobility Research — the hub’s public branch which includes St Clair College and University of Windsor. They will provide a critical bridge from research to industry.

Q: PEM Motion has invested in the new private company. What do they bring to the hub?

A: PEM has various types of successful partnerships and operations in Germany, California, China and Mexico. I’ve visited their plants in Germany and there is manufacturing going on, but entrepreneurs are also there developing their prototypes. We followed that model. So Automobility Enterprises will serve as an incubator and accelerator, but it’ll also pursue its own business. For example, they may convert internal combustion engines to battery or hydrogen, and do white-label manufacturing for small-batch commercial delivery vehicles. 

Q: What attracted you to this model? 

A: We wanted to create an environment that fosters entrepreneurship but also attracts business. This project appealed to us because it provides a niche opportunity for small-batch manufacturing. Many OEMs need to produce millions of vehicles to make their economies of scale work, but PEM’s model has been very successful with small batches. So here was an opportunity to do some manufacturing that utilises all our strengths, fosters entrepreneurship, attracts foreign direct investment (FDI) and helps our auto industry evolve. 

Q: How can international businesses use the hub?

A: Automobility Enterprises is engaging with potential international clients for white-label manufacturing. For international electric vehicle companies trying to get a foothold in North America, maybe there is the possibility to invest in or establish a joint venture with the company. 

Q: How much FDI do you expect the hub to attract?

A: The government of Canada recently awarded us C$7.5m ($5.86m) to pursue our automobility strategy over five years. We expect it can generate $200m of FDI over that period. We’ve already generated C$40m and have several projects in the pipeline. 

Q: What’s the value of this being a triple-helix project? 

A: The only way an undertaking like this succeeds is if everybody plays their part. The advantages of this triple-helix model is that research by academia is informed by private-sector reality, private companies benefit from student and faculty research, and — perhaps most importantly — innovations are commercialised faster and job creation is accelerated. With everyone bringing something to the table, we are confident we can transition our economy. 

Stephen MacKenzie is president and chief executive officer of economic development organisation Invest WindsorEssex.

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