The Ontario government plans to appoint an auto adviser to provide critical intelligence about the sector instead of a "super salesman" as it tries to convince global auto makers to invest in the province.
"We want global intelligence to determine, for instance, what are the next five or 10 [product] mandates that are going to take place globally over the next five or 10 years," Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said.
"How do we, as Ontario, position ourselves to land one or two of those mandates?"
The concept of an auto investment board headed by an industry executive with deep knowledge of the sector was suggested last year by the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, an advisory group composed of industry executives, Ontario, Quebec and federal government officials and representatives from the Unifor union.
The recommendation came in a report that examined, in part, why Mexico and southern U.S. states were winning tens of billions of dollars in new investments while Ontario was bypassed.
The government is fine-tuning the details of the auto adviser job, but it's likely to be less about selling Ontario, Mr. Duguid said in an interview at the General Motors of Canada Ltd. engineering centre in Oshawa, Ont.
"What we've lacked in the past has been sector knowledge that you probably can't get from the government that you need to get from the sector itself," he said.
In addition to determining which auto makers would be thinking about opening new plants in North America, the new auto adviser will assess threats to current investment in the province and determine how to position Ontario to take advantage of the transformation to higher-technology and greener vehicles.
Mr. Duguid said it's his job to play a crucial role in selling Ontario when new opportunities are identified. Some opportunities have arisen since the concept of the automotive investment board was first suggested last year.
AB Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. are planning to build assembly plants in North America, but those investments appear to be headed to the United States or Mexico, without Ontario even appearing on those companies' radar screens when they first began looking.
To get the attention of companies that are looking, federal and Ontario representatives need to get in the door earlier, said Ray Tanguay, who recently retired as chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. and the executive who played a key role in landing the last new auto plant in the country, the Toyota factory in Woodstock, Ont.
"For them to react after somebody has already made a decision to invest, you're too late, forget it," Mr. Tanguay said in a pre-retirement interview.
Some industry insiders have suggested that the auto adviser job is tailor-made for him.
He said in the interview, however, that he was not interested.
"I could be a spokesperson for that group, but I'm not going to be the one that's going to take that as a full-time job," he said.
"You have to develop the strategy now and identify how that would work and then decide on the need for a business leader on top of it. Don't start with, 'We want an auto czar or an auto champion or an auto ambassador' without a strategy."
He said through a spokesman last week that he has not changed his view.