Auto Industry

The market’s shifting to EVs and that explains Ford’s flip-flop

Written by Norris McDonald

Like just about everybody, friend and foe alike, I was pretty much bowled over when Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontario would be going into the electric car business. After all, this was the premier who, once elected, killed the electric car subsidy about as fast as U.S. President Joe Biden deep-sixed the Keystone oil pipeline. Said Ford: “I’m not going to give money to millionaires to buy cars.”

I agreed with that. Nobody gave me any money to buy my vehicle. Why should some people benefit from a purchase and not everybody? It’s like people buying a string of solar-powered Christmas lights to hang outside their houses while most others bought lights you have to plug in. Are the solar-power users going to get a kickback? Nope. That should be the case with electric cars.

But here was Ford in Guelph a week or two ago, along with Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Minister Vic Fedeli, talking about securing production mandates for hybrid and electric vehicles and creating a domestic battery manufacturing system.

“Our government has a plan to unleash Ontario’s economic potential as we build up home-grown supply chains for electric vehicles and battery manufacturing,” Ford said. “This plan makes clear that Ontario is a world-leading partner in creating the best vehicles with the best labour force and clean energy. We’re telling the world: we want your business.”

Ford said at the advanced manufacturing company Linamar that Ontario will partner with the automobile industry in the province to build 400,000 hybrid and electric vehicles by 2030. And I said to myself, I have to find out about this. Ford wasn’t available but Fedeli was happy to talk. I caught up with him while he was on a five-week tour of the province, visiting auto parts manufacturers and tool, die and mould makers.

So why the change of heart, I asked?

Asking a politician a question like that is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Fedeli used one word to answer me – “jobs” – but then explained that there hadn’t really been any change of anything.

“We aren’t telling the OEMs (manufacturers) what to do,” he said. “The market is shifting. We are working side-by-side and supporting the five manufacturers who build product here.  We are doing this so that our 700 parts makers and 500 tool, die and mould makers have domestic customers.

“Our position has always been that we will support the auto sector. It doesn’t matter what the emerging technology is or will be, we will support it. We’re not changing our philosophy. Our philosophy has always been to support good-paying jobs in Ontario. There are 100,000 people working in the auto sector and several hundred thousand indirect jobs. This isn’t a change in thinking. The market is going to EVs and alternative fuel vehicles and we want to be there to support that.”

I told Fedeli that I live in the suburbs and have a two-car garage and am the perfect potential EV customer. My oldest son, who would probably like to buy an EV, doesn’t have a garage, a driveway or a lane and has to buy a permit to park on the street in his neighbourhood. How would he charge up?

Said the minister: “The municipalities are working on EV strategies and charging station plans, as we speak. As the market develops, this will continue and expand. Our job is creating the business climate that fosters the development of EV infrastructure so the people of Ontario can benefit from the adoption of EVs.”

I told him that the Toronto Star has two charging stations and they’re free. In Germany two years ago, when I tested an EV, it cost me a dollar a minute to hook up at a charging station on the Autobahn. How long before EV owners have to cough up the cash here? And how does government plan to replace all the money it gets currently from the sale of a litre of fuel? Almost 50 per cent per litre is made up of taxes and no self-respecting government is going to kiss that amount goodbye.

I should have seen the answer coming.

“When you think about the investments we are making in the auto sector, when you think about the battery manufacturing that will be going on and the improved business climate that our government is creating, our revenues are increasing without increasing the tax rate. Premier Ford has said that if you create a good business climate, the money will flow in.

That might be all very well and good. But I told Fedeli that I would drive up to his home in North Bay in 10 years and we’d see who was right about the gas tax plus the price of power. Why? Because governments can’t help themselves. They want every last cent they can squeeze out of the rest of us.