As the automotive world electrifies, domestic parts manufacturers have rolled out a made-in-Canada concept car to showcase their capabilities.
More than 50 Canadian suppliers collaborated on an electric and autonomous vehicle called Project Arrow, the brainchild of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA).
Among the cutting-edge features of the Arrow are a solar-panel roof and a 3D-printed chassis, as well as a driver’s seat and steering wheel that can tell if the driver is experiencing a medical emergency, then instruct the car to head to the nearest hospital.
The one-of-a-kind prototype, a silver and black SUV, makes its domestic debut this week in Toronto at the Canadian International AutoShow (from Friday until Feb. 26), where parts makers hope to attract the attention of other manufacturers expanding their plug-in fleets. Mainstream automakers displaying new electric models at the show include Hyundai, Genesis and Nissan.
Gas-burning cars and trucks accounted for 95 per cent of registered vehicles in 2021, according to Statistics Canada. But the federal government has mandated that 20 per cent of new passenger vehicles sold in Canada must be emission-free by 2026, rising to 60 cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035. The U.S. has similarly announced that half of all cars and light trucks sold by 2030 will have to be electric, hybrid electric or fuel-cell vehicles.
Flavio Volpe, the head of the APMA, says the Arrow is a rolling showcase for Canadian automotive technology and know-how.
“What we’ve done here is we’ve created the kit for anybody that wants to do an automotive startup in Ontario or Quebec,” Mr. Volpe said. “They just have to solve the hardest part, which is to go get some risk capital. Everything else – I’ve got the menu. Come and get it. And by the way, it’s free. It’s already been developed.”
The Arrow was designed by four students at Carleton University, then developed and assembled at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ont. It was funded by $5-million in grants from the federal government, $1.8-million from Ontario and $1.4-million from Quebec (the latter’s contribution went directly to the companies involved). The parts makers contributed $12-million worth of one-off parts, research and development.
Even the name has roots in Canada. The car is a tribute to the innovation that went into the famed – and ill-fated – Avro Arrow, the fighter jet designed and built in the 1950s near Toronto that was ultimately scrapped by the federal government.
The automotive prototype, worth $20-million, is not insured nor safety certified and cannot be driven until April, when it will be transported to Atlanta – which has a testing track for such prototypes – and demonstrated to industry representatives. As a whole, the Arrow is not for sale, but all the features are functional and commercially available.
Izzy Cossarin, a fourth-year engineering student at Ontario Tech University, worked with other students on the Arrow, screening the 534 proposals from would-be suppliers, co-ordinating parts delivery, ensuring the component manufacturers had the proper specifications, then overseeing the final assembly. “A little bit of everything,” said Ms. Cossarin, 21, who designed the car’s steering wheel, which has two broad spokes with touchscreen controls and a heart-rate monitor.
The solar panel on the roof charges an auxiliary battery that keeps the main battery warm in the winter, ensuring the cold will not adversely affect the car’s range. In warm weather, the panel charges the main battery.
Samy Benhamza, the founder of Montreal’s CAPSolar, which made the solar-panel roof, said the Arrow was “perfect to showcase what we can do, what we can supply to mainstream automakers.”
The lightweight speakerless audio, road-noise mitigation and exterior “engine” sound systems – the latter a pedestrian safety feature – were provided by Bongiovi Acoustics Labs, a maker of surround-sound systems for private jets that has worked with Toyota Canada. Instead of speakers, the Arrow uses puck-sized transducers behind the interior panels, turning the car itself into a surround-sound system.
Joe Butera III, Bongiovi’s technology chief, said that because the Arrow project started as a blank slate, it allowed him to tailor the panels to work as speakers.
“It’s just a really great opportunity to work with the Canadians again,” Mr. Butera said from Florida. “We’re collaborating with Ontario Tech University, [and] just groundbreaking stuff is happening over there.”
Max Moruzzi, the founder of Xaba, said he agreed to develop and 3-D print the chassis only if the entire car was unique and designed as a living space or office. It needed to have features for consumers who shop for a car the same way they look for a new phone.
“When Flavio asked me to be part of it, I said, ‘I’m not going to do another chassis in metal. I’m not. I’m not going to do another car with a [traditional] battery. There is no innovation in that,’ ” said Mr. Moruzzi, an aerospace engineer who moved to the United States 20 years ago to make aircraft components. Xaba, which he started last year, has a Toronto office and a production facility in Italy.
The raw materials of the chassis – polymer and metal – are four times as expensive as the metal used in most car chassis. However, production takes place in a small area, not a sprawling assembly plant, and can be reprogrammed for one-tenth the cost of retooling a factory, without the added costs of welding, stamping and shaping metal. Mr. Moruzzi said that will make 3-D-printed chassis an affordable platform for everyday cars.
“I wanted a way to show to the rest of the world that this technology is tangible, it is real, that they can touch it, that it is coming. I needed a project with this opportunity,” he said.
At the auto show on Thursday, the Arrow sat cordoned off among vehicles made by Toyota and other mainstream brands – some electric, some gas-powered. With its blunt nose, orange-and-silver interior and snow-flake wheels, the Arrow stood out.
Still, Mr. Volpe said the car’s appearance is beside the point. That can change.
“You don’t have to like what it looks like,” he said. “You want to build a pickup truck. Great. You can do a zero-emission pickup truck. If you want to do a sports car, this thing’s got 550 horsepower. Make it smaller, that thing will be your Maserati. No problem.”