GM Canada expands Ontario R&D centre to focus on 'connected car'

GM Canada is hiring an additional 100 software and controls engineers for its Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa, Ont., which will have a new focus on the “connected car” and green technologies.

GM to hire 100 more software and controls engineers for Canadian engineering centre

Queens University Prof. John Holmes on the significance of GM’s expansion of its R&D centre 6:40

GM Canada is hiring an additional 100 software and controls engineers for its Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa, Ont., which will have a new focus on the "connected car" and green technologies.

GM Canada president Steve Carlisle announced the expansion of the engineering centre Tuesday in Oshawa.

"We are making this investment because we see an opportunity to take advantage of a wealth of talent in mobile technologies, software and advanced automotive engineering available in Canada's leading universities and other partner organizations," Carlisle said in a news release.

GM says it is expanding staff at the centre to 300 people, but also continuing research partnerships with Canadian suppliers and universities.

It plans to make the centre an innovation hub for the "connected car," including wireless systems that will help drivers navigate, avoid traffic jams and improve gas mileage as well as provide entertainment options.  

The "connected car" is an industry term used to describe automobiles that are equipped to share a variety of data online. Connected car technology is considered one of the keys to development of self-driving cars.

In a video accompanying the presentation, GM described connected cars as a mandate for the company and said innovation would help make vehicles safer and more efficient.

It also plans more research into the use of alternative fuels and light-weight and advanced materials which will help improve fuel economy.

GM Canada said it spends about $190 million annually on research, between its Oshawa engineering centre, its cold-weather testing facility in Kapuskasing, Ont., and its collaborations with suppliers and universities.

In a separate announcement Tuesday, the federal government announced it would begin taking applications in June for a program to support innovation by auto suppliers. Part of the $250 million a year Automotive Innovation Fund, it will support activities such as prototype development, process engineering and product testing by parts suppliers.

The new money is geared toward smaller parts suppliers wishing to innovate.

Ontario is hoping development of new car technologies will give automakers an incentive to invest more in Canada.

"This is a boost to both our automotive and information and communications technology sectors, and a true testament to our highly skilled workforce," Ontario minister of economic development Brad Duguid said.

In 2012, GM committed to investing $750 million on research and development in Canada through 2017 as part of a commitment it made to the federal and Ontario governments for its 2009 buyout.

GM has not yet committed to ongoing assembly in Oshawa and says it will wait until 2016 to announce any new models for the plant.

Queens University professor John Holmes says this is a coup for Ontario. A lot of auto research is concentrated in centres of excellence in Michigan and Germany, he said.

"In this case, GM has recognized that there is significant expertise especially in Ontario and coming out of places like University of Waterloo with wireless technologies and wireless technologies are key to the whole development of the connected car," he said in an interview with CBC's The Exchange with Amanda Lang.

But in the longer term jobs in the auto industry will depend on cars being made in Canada, Holmes said.

"It's still really important for Canada and especially Ontario to capture the production end of any research and development that is produced."


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