WATERLOO — Two of the most important sectors of the Ontario economy — automotive and high tech — have converged in southern Ontario to form an economic cluster that is unique in North America.
The convergence has been driven mainly by the availability of software developers and other tech talent, Ross McKenzie, managing director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research said Wednesday in an interview during the University of Waterloo's Autotech Symposium.
"We have talent," he said. "We have a lot of universities producing a lot of qualified engineers and qualified scientists who can take on the challenges."
Car companies needed software engineers as more computers and sensors were added to vehicles for entertainment, navigation, and assisted driving and parking. The convergence of the two sectors accelerated with demands for more connected, autonomous and driverless vehicle technology.
"We went from three R&D centres to 10 in the last three years," said McKenzie.
Ontario's automotive corridor stretches 450 kilometres along the 401 from Windsor to Oshawa and includes more than 700 parts manufacturers, 13 assembly lines, five powertrain facilities, and 10 research and development centres for parts makers. The province's auto industry directly employs 125,000 people.
Automotive's high-tech counterpart is the Toronto Waterloo Corridor, which has more than 15,000 tech companies and more than 205,000 tech workers generating an estimated 17 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, according to McKinsey & Company.
"This is the only jurisdiction in North America where one sits on top of the other," said McKenzie of the overlapping corridors. "And the players on both sides know one another, are familiar with one another, and it's driving collaborations."
The university sees more information-technology companies wanting to work in mobility and more automotive companies needing software and hardware expertise.
"You have companies like Musashi that opened their North American tech centre here in Waterloo. They opened it very quietly about 18 months ago," said McKenzie.