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Major local investment at Honda will jolt area's EV manufacturing

Electrical engineering professor at Georgian College says recent announcement for Alliston plant will be 'great opportunity' for its students in various departments
Honda says it expects to add 1,000 jobs in Alliston as it moves into the production of electric vehicles.

The next four years are crucial as Honda prepares to create four new plants to establish a complete electric vehicle (EV) supply chain at its sprawling Alliston location.

This will build upon the manufacturing that was first established there in 1986 and has developed into one of the area’s largest private-sector employers.

The Japanese automaker says it intends to have the capacity to build 240,000 electric vehicles every year in Alliston by 2028.

Currently, Honda of Canada Manufacturing’s capacity is about 400,000 vehicles per year at its two existing manufacturing facilities combined.

The multibillion-dollar investment is being described as the largest in Canada’s manufacturing history.

Honda anticipates boosting its workforce by about 1,000 people to a total of 5,200. And then there’s the ripple effect as parts manufacturers look to win supply agreements with the automaker. And many of those are, in turn, reliant upon goods, technology and automation services and equipment from other sources.

Simcoe County has a thriving manufacturing sector, which is buoyed by the automotive sector.

According to the 2021 census, which is the latest available, 29,610 people in Simcoe County, including Barrie and Orillia, worked in manufacturing. That represents 10.7 per cent of the area’s total workforce of 275,620 in 2021.

Of those manufacturing jobs, about one-third — or 10,000 — are related to the automotive sector, according to the County of Simcoe.

But as the technology is created to meet the needs of this new electric-vehicle world, a workforce with additional or new skills will be required.

How this will all role out locally has yet to be determined as Honda continues to work out the details of its planned conversion to EV manufacturing.

What is known is that Honda will build four plants in Ontario including a new Honda EV plant and a new stand-alone EV battery plant in Alliston.

Honda’s “EV value chain” is to also include the creation of a cathode active material and precursor (CAM/pCAM) processing plant and a separator plant through two joint venture partnerships.

Meanwhile, current production of combustion vehicles is expected to continue in Alliston with intentions to train the current workforce to meet the needs of EV manufacturing.

“We plan to up-skill our associates so that they are prepared for the new technologies and processes related to roles such as IPU (Intelligent Power Unit) sub-assembly and handling the installation of the IPU in the vehicle,” Honda Canada spokesperson Ken Chiu explained.

“The transition to producing EVs will create demand for new skills to meet the needs of our development and manufacturing environment," Chiu added. "Honda is planning the training needed for BEV (battery electric vehicle) development and manufacturing roles to ensure we support and prepare our associates.”

There is anticipation that Honda could use some help on the education and training front not just as it winds up for electrification, but also in the future as the building of EVs continues and develops further.

Adam Kallio, manager of economic development for the County of Simcoe, expects a long-term impact on the area’s economy and job creation.

“It’s the biggest and most impactful automotive announcement in Canadian history and will certainly have very strong positive economic, job impacts across Simcoe County for decades to come,” said Kallio.

“This announcement is incredibly exciting," he added. "Many of those jobs are going to be motor vehicle and parts manufacturing still … There’s going to be future opportunities and trends as we further progress in electric vehicles, really across Canada and globally.”

Some of those new in-demand positions, Kallio points out, will be in engineering disciplines such as electrical, chemical, industrial and software development related to the vehicle’s battery management, braking systems, acceleration as well as the entertainment system. And then there’s ongoing work around robotics, artificial intelligence (A.I.), self-driving and other automated functions.

Certainly, there will be ongoing collaborations, perhaps expanding upon the long-standing relationship between Honda Canada and Georgian College, as well as Lakehead University with its campus in Orillia.

Georgian College says it has a “complex” relationship with Honda, which involves many of the local school’s programs, says electrical engineering professor John McCluskey.

The bottom line, he says, is that the investment reflects confidence in the area’s skilled labour and access to infrastructure and education facilities.

“With the influx of money and expertise, our immediate benefit for the college is being the No. 1 supplying their workforce and educating their workforce,” McCluskey said. “We have our relationships already set up with Honda and we have the technology and new buildings and infrastructure to accommodate this growth.”

He points out that much of the knowledge that will be required still needs to be developed.

Lithium-ion batteries, which power EVs, related assembly processes, battery management systems involving hardware and software, and testing, for example, will require specific knowledge related to electric batteries and chemistry.

McCluskey says Georgian College regularly reviews its programs and courses to ensure they reflect the needs in the community. Anticipation of what is required as Honda looks to transition to EVs will undoubtedly be part of the discussion as the program advisory committees gather.

The college says it will also take into consideration the needs of Honda’s suppliers.

“It’s going to be a big opportunity,” McCluskey said. “We know it’s going to have an impact, we’ve always had a good relationship with Honda and not just in the automotive or technology field.

“You’re into the safety and compliance, you’ve got logistics and operation,” said McCluskey, in addition to project management and business as well as the environmental side of the overall operation as Honda strives to become zero emissions.

“Georgian is going to benefit across the board not just with Honda, but also with all the tier one and suppliers.”