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Ontario, Home to Major Automakers, Invests in Homegrown Electric Cars

The city of Windsor, Ontario is a short tunnel ride from downtown Detroit, and the province of Ontario is home to a major automobile industry.

A 2006 survey pointed out that Ontario actually builds more cars than Michigan does. According to the survey, the province builds 2.5 million cars and trucks every year, has 125,000 workers on assembly lines and another 250,000 "associated with the auto sector generally."

Canada has not, however, been central to the accelerating push to electrify the transportation fleet, but--as President Obama did with his recently announced $2.4 billion in stimulus money for battery manufacturing--the provincial government (which has also had to bailout local automakers, just like the U.S.) is seeking to jump-start the local EV industry.

According to Sandra Pupatello, Ontario's minister of Economic Development and Trade, the province will invest up to $16.7 million (Canadian) in Electrovaya, a Mississauga-based developer of lithium-ion batteries with an eye on the plug-in hybrid and battery EV market.

Electrovaya has featured prominently in some ExxonMobil ads, because the oil giant is a technology partner in developing the batteries for the Maya, a tiny neighborhood electric vehicle. The company has existing relationships with several carmakers, including Hummer (a plug-in hybrid version of the H3), California's Phoenix Motorcars, India's Tata (battery versions of Tata models for Europe) and several Canadian OEMs.

Charles Sousa, Mississauga's member of parliament, described Electrovaya as possessing "a globally competitive technology that creates jobs right here in Mississauga." Sankar Das Gupta, CEO of Electrovaya, said the cash infusion "allows us to accelerate our growth plans and bring our technology to market sooner."

According to Pupatello, Ontario is trying to give EVs a head start in Ontario by partnering with charging network provider Better Place early this year. She said the collaboration will begin with a demonstration project in Toronto that will eventually require "thousands" of charging stations. "We're scouting locations now," she said, adding that the government will help by cutting red tape for charging infrastructure at rest stops on Ontario highways. The province will also buy EVs for government fleets, and will allow them to travel free in HOV lanes.

Canada has some electric car startups. One of these is Zenn Motor Company, another maker of neighborhood electric vehicles, which made headlines by claiming to have exclusive access to the ultra-capacitor technology of elusive Texas-based EEStor (which claims it is getting near public disclosure of disruptive technology that will make lithium-ion batteries obsolete).

"Electrovaya makes what we believe is the next generation of transportation technology," said Pupatello, who added that the funds come from a $1.1 billion Ontario job-creation fund. "And this lines up with our agenda to lower greenhouse gas emissions."