The government of Quebec reiterates that it dreams of seeing the province become the pile of the American Northeast. For Hydro-Québec and for the 200 or so companies working in the electric transmission sector, the context to achieve this is good.
In the industrial park of Shawinigan, in Mauricie, employees and managers of the company AddÉnergie are fully aware of the opportunity that presents itself. It is here that 95% of the electric charging stations of the Quebec public network are manufactured. AddÉnergie, which also produces residential charging stations, sold 12,000 devices last year, and the future is very bright.
In Quebec, the sale of gasoline vehicles will be banned from 2035 and, within 10 years, sales of electric vehicles are expected to increase 15-fold.
However, this is little compared to the immense potential in the United States. The Director of Public Affairs of AddÉnergie, Sylvain Bouffard, is delighted with the election of Joe Biden, who wants to electrify the fleet of vehicles of the American government.
It is no longer just the business of a few cities, a few states, but, really, there is all the weight of the federal administration which gives a very, very strong signal., he said.
After a first contract in Los Angeles, AddÉnergie is preparing to install 120 terminals in New York, the prototype of which has been presented to the press.
The company hopes to get 20% of its revenue in the United States by next year. It has also just convinced an American investor to participate in the financing of its expansion towards the United States.
The United States is a very, very exciting prospect. We are certainly aware that we will probably have to adapt in order to gain access to the American market, especially to contracts that will be awarded by the federal government.
Moving to the United States?
AddÉnergie is considering opening a plant in the United States to facilitate its progress and meet the requirements of the American government. The flip side, with the election of Joe Biden, is that the new president has promised to further favor American suppliers by strengthening the Buy America clause, which concerns public transportation in the United States.
The Buy America already exists for rolling stock, especially in the bus, where 70% must be assembled in the United States, specifies Sarah Houde, CEO of Propulsion Québec, the industrial cluster of electric and intelligent transport.
On the other hand, it is clear that any threat to increase the percentage, to refine the origin of the components, is a source of concern for our members.
Nova Bus, a city bus builder based in Saint-Eustache, in the Laurentians, has started its electric shift. Vancouver has just bought 15 vehicles of its new model, and the company is thinking big for North America.
We are talking about several hundred units per year. The market is preparing and we will be ready.
Nova Bus, which belongs to the Swedish Volvo Group, is a well-established company. It has also had an assembly plant in Plattsburgh, New York, since 2009, which may make it easier for it.
Its neighbor in Saint-Eustache, the manufacturer of electrical harnesses AQ B3CG, also has a plant in Plattsburgh, and it hopes to double its production for green vehicles within three years.
We always offer our customers both factories; So, if for the American decision-maker it is important that it be done in the United States, well, we have a factory that is identical to the one here. So we can do it in Plattsburgh, says Michel Robert, director of business development for the company.
The industry is already lobbying the United States to include Canada in Joe Biden’s Buy American Act, explains Emmanuelle Toussaint of Prévost / Nova Bus.
One of the keys could be the idea of a Buy North American. It’s an idea that is gaining ground. Obviously, maybe more on this side of the border than on the US side for now.
Sitting on a gold mine
Either way, Sarah Houde is optimistic.
There is already a great level of interest in our products which have been tested in lots of cities in the United States … There is already a great experiment going on, so we think they will continue to want to use our vehicles and our products if they want to achieve their goals, says the CEO of Propulsion Québec.
Quebec is engaged in a global race and has a head start: it produces electricity at low cost, has several important minerals for the manufacture of electric batteries (lithium, graphite, nickel and cobalt) and has developed in over the years an important expertise in the electric transport sector.
We are really in a promising sector, we are sitting on a real gold mine, argues Sarah Houde.
However, this head start is fragile. To keep it and to take advantage of the windfall that the American market will offer, Joe Biden’s Buy American Act will not be the only challenge to overcome: it will be necessary to meet the immense needs for specialized labor.
Some 70% of companies in the sector said this could be a drag on their growth. Promising companies will also need to succeed in moving from more artisanal to mass production.
The provincial and federal governments, which already heavily subsidize the electric transportation sector, will continue to be called upon.
The transition is costly in public funds, says Sarah Houde, but it is worth it.
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