Canadian automotive R&D needs government funding, or it risks falling behind


A number of universities have automotive research centres, such as McMaster Automotive Research Centre (MARC), located at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and founded in 2011 with federal funding.

Canadian universities, especially their engineering schools, are well-regarded globally, Kingston said.

“That can be a reason to put activity in Canada.”

McMaster has received $50 million in public funding over the past 10 to 12 years to set up MARC, said Saeid Habibi, professor of mechanical engineering at the university.

“You’re at the inception of a major change in industry,” he said. “We’re moving toward electric vehicles; they’re going to happen. And if you don’t entrench the technology right now here in Canada, you’re not going to be able to copete” with other auto-producing jurisdictions.

Engineering professor Narayan Kar runs the Centre for Hybrid Automotive Research and Green Energy on the University of Windsor Campus. To receive federal funding, he said, projects must include an industry partner. Kar counts Ford, parts maker Magna International, D&V Electronics and BorgWarner among the lab’s long-standing stakeholders.

In 2021, for example, Kar received a $1.8 million grant for a three-year project to develop cheaper, more powerful and robust electric motors and drive systems. The project involves Magna and GaN Systems, an Ottawa semiconductor firm. Magna and the National Science Engineering Research Council (NSERC) contributed more than $1 million in cash, while the companies made in-kind contributions worth more than $700,000.

“We produce knowledge, and we use that knowledge to help industry develop better products,” said Kar.

Andréa Daigle, spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, said Ottawa invested more than $7.6 million between 2017 and 2022 in university-level EV research, including for smart chargers and grid communications.

“Canada’s science and research sectors are well-positioned to meet the demands of the 21st Century, especially in the electric vehicle industry, with a highly educated work force, world-class research institutions and abundant sources of clean energy,” Daigle said.


While basic research is done at campus facilities, much work now focuses on developing and refining specific products for industry clients. Universities have had to shift their approach to research, said Bill Van Heyst, dean of engineering at the University of Windsor.

“We tend to put things more in line of a business proposal now rather than ‘come do research, and we’ll solve the world’s problems.’ People don’t buy that anymore; they need to see a return on their investment.”

The same goes for a governmental institution. The National Research Council (NRC) does commissioned work for automakers and suppliers while also conducting basic research.

The latter includes examining next-generation batteries — offering higher capacity and solid-state design — that might not become commercial for many years.

“These are the technologies of the future,” said Asmae Mokrini, the NRC’s senior research officer for automotive and surface transportation.

Small- and midsize enterprises can tap into product-development help through the NRC’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.


Industry is also looking for cleaner methods of battery production and better recycling methods, said Mokrini. They include recovery of lithium, cobalt and manganese. Expected growth in the EV market will produce increased volumes of spent batteries.

Industry participants at a recent conference on EV development that Mokrini attended said government must streamline permitting and approvals if Canada is to remain competitive. It’s not an issue at NRC, she said.

“For sure, it’s a large organization; and for sure, there are a lot of processes, but from the R&D processes,” it’s not as difficult as it is for manufacturers seeking to set up a plant.

— With files from Grace Macaluso of Automotive News Canada

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Toyota has a research centre in Vancouver. It does not.


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