Out in Front

Ecological transition in transportation: Q&A with Propulsion Quebec CEO Sarah Houde

Judy Lin, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

As electrification becomes a clear trend for future cars, solutions for infrastructure, power supply and batteries are very much in need to develop a sound and sustainable ecosystem in line with such a trend. Propulsion Quebec is an NPO created to support the ecological transition of transportation by enhancing the collaborative efforts of the industry.

Digitimes recently talked to Propulsion Quebec CEO Sarah Houde to better understand how the Canadian province of Quebec is developing its EV ecosystem through her organization.

Q: Please give a brief introduction to your organization and your mission.

A: We are a non-profit organization that was created with the initiative of the government of Quebec to accelerate the development of our high potential industries. It was created in 2017. At the moment it is still an emerging industry, but is very fast growing and with high potential for many different reasons. Our key performance index would focus on the number of jobs, the contribution to Quebec economy, and the number of companies and their size, as well as exports. We have 210 members right now, most of them are manufacturing and services in five different sectors, such as electric vehicles (EV), smart vehicles, smart infrastructure, mobility services, and charging infrastructure.

In the electrical vehicle sector, they range from mining companies that provide strategic and critical elements for the batteries, to the vehicles at the OEMs. We don't manufacture that many cars, but we do everything else. Our spectrum spans from electrical scooters, and electrical trains, and everything in between, such as electric buses, trucks, snowmobile, garbage trucks, bikes, etc.

In the charging industry, we have members manufacturing charging stations, components, hardware and software for smart vehicles and infrastructure.

Our 5th sector is the innovative business model of smart mobility, such as bike-sharing, car-pooling, mass mobility as a service, apps, etc.

We are a team of 20 people, based in Montreal, but we are covering all Quebec. We have members all across the territory.

By identifying obstacles for our industry, we are concentrating all our efforts towards, basically, regulation and public policies, to help transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to more sustainable mobility. We also work on R&D, experimentation, demonstration and commercialization, which covers the cycle of developing a product. We also work on workforce issue, to make sure conditions such as we are growing the industry but we don't have candidates to fill the positions won't happen. That's not worth it, so we work with post-secondary institutions so that they offer the right training. And we help our companies to attract the right credential candidates. Finally, we work with private funding, private equity funds, banks, just to make sure our industry gets the right portion of private investments to meet their needs to growth.

Q: Since your establishment, there have been exponential growth in your membership. Can you also share with us the trends of significant growth in the industry?

A: Sure. Across the world, there has been exponential growth for electrical vehicles of all sorts. We see that in Quebec because we have manufacturers that were there at very early stages and have been growing. We had zero members when we were established in 2017, and now we have 210 (all Quebec companies). All of our KPIs, including the number of the companies, their sizes, exports, sales, and contributions to Quebec GDPs, we calculated them in 2018. At the time KPMG did the calculation, and there were 147 companies, and now we have 210. Lion Electric company (a Canadian company that manufactures electrical vehicles) now has six models, compared to only one model just three years ago. It is mind blowing.

Q: What is Canada's vision for future transportation behind this project? What goals and purposes were set for this endeavor?

A: I do not speak for the government of Canada. But I think we share this vision of using ecological transition as a development tool. We are tapping on our assets, such as hydraulic electricity in Quebec, which contributes a great deal of power we use at very low tariffs. That makes a business case for electrification. We also have the critical minerals I mentioned for the batteries. We have the natural resources, and pool of expertise from the National Research Center on electricity. We also have a pool of experts from artificial intelligence (AI), which is super useful for optimization of transportation flow, logistics, etc. There are very innovative elements plus the natural resources, and when put together, you can hope to create an economic development movement that is supporting the transition into a more sustainable growth. Here in Canada, or Quebec, transportation is responsible for 43% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, so when we transition on transportation, we really have a significant impact on the environment. So it is in Canada's vision to invest in that sector to achieve economic development goals as well as GHG emission reduction.

Q: How can Taiwan be a partner to support Canada's transition in smart transportation industry? Any specific companies that you have in mind to become partners as such?

A: Yes, we think we should be attractive to many Taiwanese companies. Besides all those assets as I mentioned, the cost of living here in Quebec and especially Montreal is also low. We also have government incentives for R&D, so we do have attractive elements for Taiwanese tech companies related to smart transportation and electrical vehicle sectors. This is where we would both benefit from a closer relationship.

Q: The Taiwanese companies play a very dominant role in the global supply chain, serving lots of North American companies in the electricity, EV industry. Now Taiwan also has a big EV ecosystem proposed by Foxconn, which is called MIH. What kind of opportunities are open to Taiwanese tech companies? Would you consider MIH a potential member for your alliance?

A: Yes of course. It would be a win-win cooperation. Maybe there are also opportunities for the Taiwanese companies in working with us in R&D, prototypes, advanced manufacturing, finding solutions for complex problems, etc. We are working on a EV with a battery that can get you further, carry heavier loads, with faster charging - everybody all around the world are trying to invent those things. If we can work with Taiwanese companies, especially your readers, I think it would be on R&D projects. We are developing an innovation hub, called "sustainable mobility city," for companies that are big, small, local, and international to work together on collaborative research projects with researchers from Quebec to find solutions on those complex problems. They work together in a neutralized space, use neutralized equipment and shared IP. The idea is to accelerate the R&D process in the sustainable mobility sector. This is a highly competitive sector at the international level. This is where we should be working together.

Q: As you mentioned EV and batteries are important industries in Quebec. Are there rare earth deposits and mining in Quebec as well?

A: Yes. We have lithium, nickel, cobalt and graphite. These are the most present minerals we have. There are also other kinds of rare earth in Canada, but these four are the most present.

Q: Canada is very advanced on the AI field, while Taiwanese companies are very strong on the hardware side. They are very complementary.

A: Quebec seems to be a perfect place to develop batteries, because we have the natural resources, stable and predictable political environment. We also have the cleanest energy mix in America, ideal for batteries supply chain. Manufacturing 4.0 is such a big program here, to ensure we use as much automation as possible to enhance productivity across the country, definitely a priority. For complex vehicles that we manufacture in Canada, we also need automation to build, sustain, and maintain them.

Q: Propulsion Quebec has already led 16 trade missions to different markets around the world. What are the markets that you have visited, and do you have plans to visit Asia?

A: Most of our trade missions are in the US, because they are our main export market. We have had 16 trade mission in three years. We had one in Europe, and have been to Asia twice. In 2019 we went to Singapore, and the year before that we went to China and Japan. Our next stops in Asia would probably be South Korea and Taiwan when Covid is behind us.

Propulsion Quebec CEO Sarah Houde

Propulsion Quebec CEO Sarah Houde
Photo: Propulsion Quebec