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General Motors of Canada has purchased a site near the east side of downtown – currently occupied by a film studio – that will also serve as the Canadian head office for its Maven car sharing service, the centre of some research and development activities, a sales and service centre that will focus on electric vehicles and e-bikes.

Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

General Motors of Canada Ltd. is establishing a separate Canadian head office for its Cadillac division as part of plans to return to the downtown Toronto core with a new complex that will also house a sales outlet for some of the company's brands.

The auto maker has purchased a site on the eastern edge of downtown – currently occupied by a film studio – that will also serve as the Canadian head office for its Maven car-sharing service, the centre of some research and development activities, and a sales and service centre that will focus on electric vehicles and e-bikes. It will be called the Toronto GM Mobility Campus.

"It gives us the base we're looking for to have General Motors re-enter downtown, but not in the traditional sense," David Paterson, GM Canada's vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs said Monday.

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GM has been absent from the downtown core in Toronto for more than a decade and has been examining properties and ways to sell vehicles in that part of the city for several years.

"This is the one property we're investing in," Mr. Paterson said.

Part of the plan involves a dealership, he said, although it will differ from the typical dealership.

"We'll do something that suits the neighbourhood, but it is part of the plan to have that," he said.

The site is not far from what is now a row of luxury auto makers along the Don River and the Don Valley Parkway along the east side of Toronto's downtown core.

But mass-market brands are moving into the area as well. Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. opened a dealership nearby and is scheduled to move next year into a new auto campus being built by Downtown Auto Group. The facility will include Hyundai Auto Canada Corp., Nissan Canada Inc. and Toyota Canada Inc. outlets.

Technology is changing the vehicles auto makers produce, so they are trying to make sure the sales process evolves in tandem.

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"The [buying] experience needs to be refined and redefined," one veteran dealer said Monday.

The GM site will likely sell the auto maker's Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands and possibly Cadillac, Mr. Paterson said.

The development will provide jobs for between 130 and 150 GM Canada employees, he said. Some of the jobs will be transferred from the company's head office in Oshawa, Ont.

Detroit-based General Motors Co. has established a separate head office for its Cadillac brand in New York, so establishing a separate Canadian head office for the division is consistent with GM's own moves and what other auto makers such as Volkswagen AG and others have done with their luxury units, Mr. Paterson said.

GM Canada's research and development offices in Oshawa and Waterloo, Ont., are working on applications for autonomous and connected vehicles. The downtown Toronto campus will be another centre for that research and other work.

In addition, "we're going to be doing a lot more electric vehicle sales as well as other urban-oriented vehicle sales, so there will be a bit of specialization there," Mr. Paterson said. "Doing e-bike development, being downtown with the bike lanes, kind of makes sense for us in that area."

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The Maven car-sharing business involves partnering with condo developers to offer a fleet of GM vehicles to condo buyers, who will pay for the service through their condo maintenance fees. A pilot project is under way in New York and there are discussions with some developers in Toronto, but no agreements have been reached yet.

GM Canada and the film studio, Cinespace Film Studios, have agreed to a one-year lease that will allow the studio to pursue plans to build a larger space in the city's port lands area.

The full GM development could take "a number of years" to go through planning and approval, Mr. Paterson said.

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