KPMG in Canada has released "The State of Canada's Auto Sector: Recalculating the Road Ahead," detailing an industry undergoing dramatic transformation, as the effects of shifting markets, increased global competition, and new technology and consumer trends take hold. These insights draw on KPMG's 20th Global Automotive Executive Survey (GAES), an annual survey of 3,000 auto exec and consumers on what's next in the automotive industry.
Disruption in Canada's auto sector
Turbulence in the global auto sector and changing consumer tastes are pushing Canadian car makers for more cost-effective production, lower labour costs and greater tech innovation.
"General Motors' decision to close its Oshawa plant marks an inflection point for the Canadian auto industry," says Peter Hatges, partner, national sector lead, automotive markets, KPMG in Canada. "We've reached a crossroad, triggered by the onset of new business pressures. While Canada's auto sector is no stranger to disruption, we're seeing the effects of a shift in global sales and increased competition from lower-cost markets, as the industry explores new frontiers in electric and autonomous driving. These factors are reshaping the roles of car makers, both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their suppliers, within an evolving supply chain."
The Canadian advantage
Despite GM's withdrawal, there is reason to remain confident in Canada's auto sector. Hatges notes that the sector continues to have many strengths, including a skilled, available labour force, a mature supplier network, and ongoing government support, through manufacturing, production and R&D tax credits and incentives. Canada's auto industry contributes $19 billion to GDP, making it one of the country's largest manufacturing centres.
"The Canadian government has done its part to nurture our domestic auto industry, and, critically, defended the sector when negotiating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)," says Hatges. "Ottawa needs to continue to maintain a vigilant watch south of the border, as USMCA further reshapes supply chains, pricing and investment strategies in North America. Ultimately, it's up to industry to read the future and grab onto emerging opportunities."
Currently, there is no clear consensus on which auto technologies will power the cars of the future. In fact, the majority of execs surveyed believe multiple technologies will co-exist in the future, including internal combustion engines (ICEs), hybrids, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs). ICEs remain popular and hybrids are a top choice for consumers looking to buy their next car. BEVs are an important manufacturing trend, although one in three consumers agree that price is the biggest barrier to buying a fully electric car.
Five considerations for Canada's auto manufacturing sector
- Be bold. As global competition increases, Canada's auto sector – OEMs, suppliers and auto-tech innovators – need to move beyond following trends and set the standard for industry innovation. This means coming to market with more effective ways to design, engineer and manufacture leading-edge automotive materials and technologies.
- Be the best supplier. Despite worries about protectionist sentiment in the U.S., today's auto supply chain is highly integrated and global. For Canadian suppliers to stand out, they must contribute quality improvements, technology advances and cost savings to leading manufacturers. Being the supplier of choice means helping these companies manage new risks and contributing to profitability.
- Be visionary. The future of mobility in Canada is complex and likely to encourage cross-industry partnerships. Industry will need to rethink old business models and cooperate to create a mobility ecosystem – one that addresses the unique perspectives of millennials who are less reliant on cars. Government will shape transportation and electricity infrastructure, influencing the type of cars Canadians will drive in the future. FCEVs, considered a breakthrough for e-mobility, could solve the infrastructure challenges of Canada's vast geography and current battery limitations in cold weather conditions.
- Build Canadian tech alliances. While car manufacturers and suppliers are developing internal capacity to meet the demands of the industry's tech revolution, more can be done to tap into Canada's world-leading tech hubs. Ontario's auto and tech industries are particularly well-positioned to meet these new demands. Arguably, cooperation and strategic alliances with the tech sector, rather than competition, will feed success.
- Be connected. Brand is no longer as key for consumers as previously, while digitization, seamless connectivity, and data security are gaining importance. As vehicles increasingly continue to connect to the roads, systems and apps around them, catering to those needs and providing the most integrated customer experience will be a competitive advantage.