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Chief executive officer Sue Ozdemir is banking on Exro’s unique technology – which boosts the capability and efficiency of electric motors and batteries – gaining serious traction with some of the industry’s top players in 2023.Todd Korol/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Sue Ozdemir calls this Exro Technologies Inc.’s launch year, which may come as a surprise to those who have watched the company evolve over the past decade.

But, 3½ years into the job as chief executive officer, Ms. Ozdemir is banking on Exro’s unique technology – which boosts the capability and efficiency of electric motors and batteries – gaining serious traction with some of the industry’s top players in 2023.

“We’re saying this is the year where we really become recognized in the markets that we play,” she said during a recent visit to the company’s new, squeaky-clean US$25-million manufacturing facility in southeast Calgary.

The markets Exro is targeting are among the hottest in the energy transition. Under Ms. Ozdemir’s leadership, the company has transformed itself to take advantage of the coming boom in the electrification of the economy, especially transportation. The International Energy Agency has said EVs will comprise 30 per cent of all vehicles sold globally in 2030, given existing national pledges. If the international community ups its ambitions to align with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, that percentage must rise to 60 per cent in seven years, it said.

Exro estimates the overall size of that market at US$133-billion. With that potential in mind, Ms. Ozdemir aims to make Calgary an unlikely hub for a corner of the auto sector – one that could serve every type of motorized vehicle, from motorcycles and ATVs to passenger cars and transport trucks.

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“We’re not doing something that’s being done. We’re really doing something that’s challenging how it’s done, and we’re doing it well,” she said. “It’s a matter of time until we get to that big piece of what we see as our vision, and it’s just in front of us now, with production.”

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Chief investment officer Darrell Bishop and Ms. Ozdemir run through the manufacturing process at the new Exro Technologies manufacturing plant in Calgary on March 2.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

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A circuit board in the climate-controlled room at the Exro Technologies manufacturing plant in Calgary.Todd Korol/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

One of Exro’s main products is its technological twist on the inverter, which acts almost like a combination of gearbox and turbocharger for EVs. The Coil Driver unit is added to an electric motor, increasing torque at low speeds and power and efficiency at high speeds. The performance boost allows the vehicle to have a smaller motor – or fewer motors, as some EVs have as many as four – essentially cutting the cost of a powertrain by as much as 20 per cent, the company says.

That’s the kind of stat Ms. Ozdemir, 50, enjoys quoting. She comes by her obsession with motors honestly. Her parents ran a motor repair shop in Milton, Ont., serving clients in industries such as oil and gas and pulp and paper. She picked up on the inner workings of electric power at her father’s feet. “I learned to fix a motor when I was really young,” she said.

She went on to a career at GE, where she rose to the position of CEO of the conglomerate’s small industrial motors division, based in Houston, Tex., before being lured to Exro in 2019. The company was previously based in Vancouver and had been looking to test its technological concept in a range of industries, including wind turbines.

“When I was introduced to the company through a recruiter, I recognized the physics of the motor, and the electronics were fascinating to me. Think about it: When you want to scale a motor, there’s a lot of work to that. And it’s a lot of work to scale a drive company. But once you achieve it, it’s a really easily scalable product.”

Exro has kitted out a Zero electric motorcycle and an EV version of a military Humvee to demonstrate the Coil Driver. They impress gearheads who see them in action, but Exro doesn’t serve the consumer market. Instead, it is targeting manufacturers and top suppliers to the big auto and truck makers.

Its strategy includes testing and developing technology with partners that are experts in various market segments, such as commercial truck manufacturer Sea Electric and bus manufacturer Vicinity Motor Corp. Exro plans a combination of manufacturing at its own facility and licensing the technology to larger players. The new automated factory, where equipment to manufacture circuit boards for the driver units is installed and ready to go, is key to those plans. It also has offices in Phoenix, Ariz., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Exro has kitted out a Zero electric motorcycle and an EV version of a military Humvee to demonstrate the Coil Driver.Todd Korol/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The technology has caught the attention of some established auto-parts players, including Guelph, Ont.-based Linamar Corp., with which Exro has struck a partnership to manufacture e-axles for commercial trucks. They have already proved the concept and will now conduct extensive testing with the expectation that production will begin in the second half of this year.

Ms. Ozdemir says the Coil Driver will help reduce some of the range anxiety that plagues the EV sector, but not all of it. The other piece of the puzzle is charging infrastructure. Another Exro product, Cell Driver, has a battery control system that balances the charging and discharging of cells used in EV chargers and batteries.

That could offer revenue in both expanding EV-charging networks as well as electricity infrastructure. Indeed, Exro is setting up a battery storage system employing its technology for the Calgary plant that will be fed by solar panels on its roof, part of a carbon-neutral manufacturing plan.

With commercial operations in sight, Exro stock, at $2.34 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is more than 80 per cent above where it was a year ago. It tumbled as low as 75 cents last summer amid delays related to the pandemic and the supply-chain disruptions that have pressured companies everywhere. Those look to have been dealt with, said Chris Murray, an analyst with ATB Financial who rates Exro as a speculative buy.

Mr. Murray said the global push to net-zero emissions and the adaptability of Exro’s products bode well for the company, as does Ms. Ozdemir’s approach to getting the products to market. “She’s got a really good background around the technology and the application, and I think that that’s been really helpful in translating the technology into the application for end users,” he said.

The success in attracting partners to test the technology has also been a big positive, Mr. Murray said. “It’s a really difficult process and it takes years to do. But along the way, they’ve managed to actually have a fair amount of success, and I give her a lot of credit for orchestrating all of that.”

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