Back in February, at the Canadian International AutoShow — 10 days of wall-to-wall cars and light trucks, plus extra added attractions — I was host of an interview program called Auto Show Live. It was great fun.
Held at the Toronto Star/wheels.ca display area, Auto Show Live was (and is — they’ve renewed my contract for 2020) a series of 20-to-30-minute interview sessions with everybody from auto manufacturing company presidents to racing drivers. One of my favourite interviews from this year’s show was with Steve Podborski, the former Canadian World Cup and Olympic downhill ski team member who is now in charge of Parachute, a national charitable organization dedicated to preventing injuries and saving lives.
Naturally, my first question to Podborski was along the lines of: “Wait a minute. You’re a guy who spent a good part of his life teetering on the brink of disaster, and now you’re telling everybody else to be careful out there? What gives?”
His answer? Calculated risks are OK, so long as you know what you’re doing, which he did — most of the time. Remember, though, that Podborski and his teammates — Ken Read, among them — were known around the world in the 1980s as the “Crazy Canucks,” which should give you some idea of how calculated the risks really were.
In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed MCing Auto Show Live. And I must have impressed somebody, because I’ve been asked to recreate it next week on Monday and Tuesday at an annual trade show being held here in Toronto called Discovery, which is organized by the Ontario Centres of Excellence and sponsored by, in addition to OCE, the Toronto Star, AVIN and the Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS).
I’m paraphrasing their website here, but it’s better to be accurate, rather than me bungling it by trying to explain it:
Discovery is Canada’s leading innovation-to-commercialization conference. Held in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s South Building — they’re celebrating 14 years of bold, new ideas — it brings together key players from industry, academia, government and the investment community, as well as entrepreneurs and students.
Last year, more than 3,500 people attended and there were more than 550 exhibitors in the 200,000 square feet of floor space. (Norris note: that’s big.) Discovery is a showcase of leading-edge technologies, best practices and research from sectors such as health, manufacturing, digital media (hooray!) and clean tech. The organizers say that speakers, panels and interviews will ignite discussion, knowledge-sharing and new perspectives. Networking opportunities abound.
Many of the exhibitors and speakers are Ontario-based, making Discovery an excellent place to see made-in-Ontario innovations and what’s next in the world of technology.
Now, last week, when I was talking to the organizers, and later, when I was watching some promos for Discovery on YouTube, I was amazed by what I heard about the potential of technology. I listened to explanations of what’s happening in the world right now — I had no idea — and I came away convinced that the future of the world, so far as everything from disease to climate change is concerned, is safe and secure.
OK, what does all of this have to do with the auto industry?
My answer, in a word: lots.
The automotive world is changing almost daily. The darling of the electric car crowd, Tesla, is in financial difficulty and, according to the Star’s David Olive, will likely wind up as a subsidiary of an established automaker. Ford is going ahead with plans to make the F-150 pickup all-electric. Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch, actually) just the other day ordered 200 electric transport trucks. My question has always been: where are they going to get enough clean energy to provide electricity to power just about everything in the world? And autonomous vehicles are right around the corner, too. Are they ever going to be really safe?
The answer, of course, is that technology will figure it out and solve whatever problems crop up. I will be asking a lot of questions of my guests on Auto Show Live about all this.
There will be four mainstage keynote speakers — Duncan Wardle, former head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney; Pernilla Jonsson, head of Consumer and Industry Lab at Ericsson Research; Nicole Buckley, the Canadian Space Agency’s chief scientist; and Norm Judah, former chief technology officer at Microsoft Enterprise.
And just who are some of the people I will be talking to? And when will they be on? Here’s a brief rundown.
At 4:45 p.m. on Monday, Larry Murat will be my guest. He’s the vice-president and CTO of Regional Accounts Canada for Ericsson North America. He’s a specialist on 5G wireless networks, which have potential to impact several sectors of the Canadian economy, including the automotive section.
At 5:45 p.m., Bob Love will be on with me. Love is senior partner at BLG and leads the National Product Liability and Automotive sector groups. He is the author and co-author of several publications and presentations covering topics such as autonomous vehicles and the insurance market.
Tenille Houston is the vice-president of Marketing and Communications at SmartCone Technologies, which develops solutions for controlling — among other things — bike lane traffic and managing vehicle fleets. She will appear at 6:15 p.m.
On Tuesday, at 2:45 p.m., Francis Dube, CEO and chairman of ZEN Graphene Solutions, will be on. Graphene can benefit the automobile industry by lowering the weight of vehicles in order to increase range and decrease the carbon footprint.
At 3:15 p.m., my guest will be Greta Cutulenco, who’s the CEO and co-founder of Acerta Analytics Solutions. Acerta provides a machine-learning platform that detects malfunction and predicts failures for vehicles coming off the assembly line.
Duncan Stewart will appear at 3:45 p.m. He’s the director of TMT Research for Deloitte Canada. He’s said that, by 2023, there will be between 300 million and 400 million electric vehicles on the roads. I’m looking forward to chatting with Stewart about this and other future automotive trends.
The show runs on Monday from 1 p.m. till 7 p.m. and on Tuesday from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m.
Freelance writer Norris McDonald is a columnist for Toronto Star Wheels and a consultant with the Canadian International AutoShow.