GM Kapuskasing Proving Grounds:
A Piece Of Ontarian Automotive Asset And Engineering Excellence You Probably Didn’t Know
In Kapuskasing, a remote city in Northern Ontario, 846 kilometres or an eight-hour drive from Downtown Toronto an unnoticed asset of the Ontario automotive industry has been offering its services for 80 years.
Early this month General Motors (GM) Canada organized a virtual event for a group of automotive journalists and bloggers to create awareness about something unique and interesting. I attended this event and was pleasantly surprised to learn about Kapuskasing Proving Grounds as a full-scale permanent cold-weather test facility.
The facility officially opened in 1973. However, GM began cold-weather testing work in Kapuskasing in 1941 – originally testing military vehicles for the government. It was not a coincidence that this year overlaps with the bloodiest days of World War II. It is worth remembering that GMC heavy military trucks (among others) which passed the tests in this tough environment accomplished critical missions in the harsh winters in Europe during World War II and probably in the Korean War.
In the following years and decades, this facility gained importance for civil use. Today around 95 percent of GM North American vehicles are tested in Kapuskasing – with the rest tested at the Automotive Center of Excellence (ACE) climactic wind tunnel at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa. All GM North American vehicle programs must complete cold weather exposure testing as part of their overall durability requirement, which is always managed by the Kapuskasing Proving Grounds team. We, Canadians have to drive and stay on the road in the harsh conditions in winter and endure temperatures well below zero. And it is a relief to know that at least regarding GM vehicles, durability and reliability were taken good care of.
Kapuskasing Proving Ground in numbers:
- The Kapuskasing Cold Weather Test Facility sits on 272 acres and contains:
• Two vehicle testing lines
• A 3.6km advanced test track featuring full WiFi coverage and a smart camera system that follows the vehicles as they’re in motion
• 13-vehicle garage
• 30 cold cells capable of recreating weather conditions reaching -45C
• A battery lab and facility for conditioning batteries and testing in extreme cold weather conditions.
As GM plans to fully electrify its entire model range in a not-so-distant future, testing BEVs for winter durability will matter more than ever and Kapuskasing would play a more important role. It is even possible that GM would offer this facility for other manufacturers’ use.
The Kapuskasing Proving Grounds operates two lines for testing:
1. The Cold Weather Vehicle Line focuses on early cold weather development tests, testing anywhere from 150-250 vehicles annually.
2. The Cold Weather Exposure Line runs the cold weather exposure test, testing about 30 vehicles annually.
Kapuskasing Proving Grounds and Beyond
More than a decade ago and in the aftermath of the 2009 global financial crisis, GM was bailed out with roughly $60-billion (U.S.) in loans from the U.S., Canadian and Ontario governments. The federal and Ontario governments received 12 percent of the common shares in the new GM in return for $10.8-billion (Canadian) in financial assistance, in the hope of retaining thousands of jobs. It was not an easy decision to save a private company even if so much was at stake.
With more focused and streamlined management, “The New GM” not only survived but paid back billions of taxpayers’ money while turning to profitability. Even if the dark days of Covid-19 restrictions GM got stronger and became a carrier of hope for the future of the automotive industry in this country.
With the re-opening of the century-old Oshawa plant in early 2022, the transformation of the Ingersoll plant for the production of electric delivery vans in late 2021 and engine production in St. Catharines plant, thousands of new or returning jobs will boost the Ontario and Canadian economy. It is good to see that even a remote, small town in Northern Ontario gets its share from GM’s investments in Canada
So, we can say, GM more than deserved people’s support.
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Article by Varol McKars with supporting documents from GM Canada
Photos provided by GM Canada