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A fond farewell, and a look ahead

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My term as president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) is drawing to a close, and this will be my final column for Wheels. It’s been a pleasure and an honour serving the TADA and its 1,100 members over the past two years and sharing my views on the automotive industry with readers.

To say that 2020 was a challenging year for our industry would be a huge understatement. Although no dealerships could have prepared for Covid-19, the quickness with which they responded and adapted to new health and safety protocols is truly remarkable.

Early in the pandemic, the provincial government deemed car dealerships an essential service, and so service departments were allowed to remain open. Keeping them open ensured that essential workers could get their vehicles repaired/serviced, and helped to maintain municipal fleets, police cruisers, ambulances and hydro trucks. In May 2020, new car showrooms were also given the green light to re-open, by appointment only.

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Inasmuch as the pandemic has negatively affected businesses, communities and individuals, there are positive developments in the retail auto industry.

One positive development is the digitization of the car buying process. Video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and DocuSign, have given customers the option of purchasing online, if they prefer. Dealer websites have become more advanced with more functionality.

Another positive development is the investments being made in the auto manufacturing sector. In the past four months, Ford of Canada, GM Canada and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have announced investment deals in their respective Ontario assembly plants worth $6 billion collectively to produce fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

Cliff Lafreniere

In December, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario announced that they will invest $5 million each in a mining company that produces battery-grade cobalt sulfate, a required element needed to produce long-range electric vehicles.

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Ontario, as a whole, will benefit from this investment, as the province evolves to become a bigger player in electric vehicle parts and battery manufacturing supply chain.

A strong domestic supply chain for essential resources needed to produce EV batteries is critical to the long-term success of the Canadian auto industry.

The ongoing collaboration between all levels of government, industry and labour will be essential as we work towards economic recovery and build for the future.

Increased consumer interest in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids is another bright light for the auto industry in Canada.

Sales of these vehicles have been steadily increasing since 2015, range anxiety has been reduced with more charging stations and charging outlets being installed across the country, and, according to a study by Simon Fraser University, more Canadians than ever (eight million) have indicated that they are open to the idea of potentially purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle.

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Automakers are ramping up the number of models available in the electric and electric plug-in categories, as more than 100 new models are expected to be unveiled in North America.

The pandemic has prompted the retail auto industry to reinvent itself in many ways, and I’m excited to see where today’s changes will take us tomorrow.

Michael Eatson (Dealer Principal at Peterborough Volkswagen) is the incoming President of the TADA. Michael will discuss many of these changes in this column, starting next month. Good Luck, Michael!

Cliff Lafreniere is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) and is president of Pinewood Park Motors (Ford) in Kirkland Lake. This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to or go to tada.ca. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.

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