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EDITORIAL: Chatham-Kent part of the change

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The Detroit-based automobile industry is slowing changing to electric vehicles, and Chatham-Kent is part of that change.

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Canadian auto parts giant Magna International will manufacture – in Chatham – battery enclosures for the new electric Ford F-150.

The company expects to start making 60,000 battery enclosures annually by late fall, eventually ramping up to 120,000 units in the former Crown Metal Packaging plant on Irwin Street.

Magna’s local investment will be worth over $50 million, and it expects to hire 150 employees.

Magna’s selection of Chatham-Kent is wonderful news. As a well-known Canadian supplier to the global automotive industry, Magna carries a lot of weight, and its presence here will be a signal to other manufacturers – in automotive or other enterprises – that the municipality is open for business.

Secondly, it’s important that our community’s involvement in the automobile industry includes electric vehicles because that’s where the industry is heading. Every automaker is either building, or has plans to build, an electric vehicle. And almost all of them plan to eventually phase out production of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Part of that plan is customer-driven, although you’d never know it from sales statistics. In 2020, just three per cent of all Canadian new vehicle sales were electric. In the U.S., it was just two per cent.

But that’s about to change, as companies roll out more electrics, and as the infrastructure to accommodate those vehicles is expanded and improved upon.

As well, the switch to electric is being mandated by government. In Canada, the sale of new gas- or diesel-powered vehicles will be banned beginning in 2035. But by that time, many of the manufacturers, including those in Detroit, will be building vehicles that are exclusively electric.

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Chatham’s proximity to Detroit has always been important when it comes to the car business. Not only has this area produced several leaders in the Detroit industry, but it was almost immediately part of Detroit’s sphere of influence when the car industry began in the early 20th century.

That’s why the Magna investment is so important. It helps to strengthen that historical connection, in this case with the Ford Motor Company.

The battery enclosures built in Chatham will be used at Ford’s Dearborn plant where the new electric F-150 is being assembled. The new truck has been so well received that Ford in January announced plans to double production.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. In the coming years, electric vehicle production will become a phenomenon.

-Peter Epp

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