Why Ontario is burning through a lot of ill-gotten gains

It’s been two years since Ontario announced it would limit emissions from vehicles as part of its larger move toward clean air. As I wrote here two years ago, it’s not just about anti-environmentalist-attitude. It’s about economic growth and investment, too.

Ford, which built most of those vehicles, hasn’t sold a lot of them since the cap-and-trade scheme hit, but we’re still talking about 30,000 to 40,000 vehicles (and growing every year), though in some cases, it’s been vehicles costing a whopping $23,000. Less-economically priced cars have been sold, but less than 1 percent of all vehicles on the road were made in Ontario last year.

Ontario, of course, is the epicenter of the auto industry. Politicians there get as much face time with auto suppliers, manufacturer and the other employer/construction groups of that industry as their counterparts in Detroit. And, according to the Journal Star of Joliet, Illinois, an industrial park there that gets quite a bit of hard-currency auto business is where none of the former 450 Ford engine plant workers is sitting:

Ford, a longtime presence in the southern suburbs of Chicago and in another plant in Highland Park, has its Lincoln-Mercury and Ford-brand facilities. Those operations employ just over 2,000 people in LaSalle County, slightly more than half the number of workers at the Highland Park plant.

They haven’t forgotten. The employment opportunity is rising. The latest community development plan for LaSalle County calls for construction of a new Ford Manufacturing Center, encompassing approximately 813,000 square feet of new office and manufacturing space. At 28 acres, it’s smaller than the Hyde Park Ford facility in Chicago, but because LaSalle County’s smaller, it will have a direct connection to the car manufacturing facilities in Oakville. “We have a net-positive for sure,” Hoffman said.

Ford in the United States and Ontario is essentially buying out of the business, an effort that includes automaking as well as investments in clean-energy equipment. Ford is leaving behind the carbon of miles driven and the carbon of gas that comes from fuels with which it’s been subsidizing the way of life of global consumers.

The United States and other environmental groups have complained that emissions limits will hurt consumers, but Ontario is doing their best to address what has become a problem. Fiat Chrysler did a number of the same things, and they too report that they are profiting.

I happen to think that it’s going to be a while before “first-mover advantage” carries much value. It means you can buy into a specific vision of the world and how you want the world to be. But, for the time being, it sure has been painful for us to have to travel someplace to be blessed with a truly clean air.

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