Photo: Chevrolet Volt by GriinBlog is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

General Motors Canada is partnering with Communitech to set up an “innovation research zone” in Waterloo Region, where the automaker will initially focus on urban mobility, car sharing and mobile app innovation.

Stephen Carlisle, GM Canada President and Managing Director, made the announcement today in Toronto, during an address to the Canadian Club.

The new innovation space, to be housed at the Communitech Hub in the former Lang Tannery in downtown Kitchener, will add GM Canada’s name to a growing list of large corporations eager to tap into Waterloo Region’s startup ecosystem and deep technical talent pool.

“Communitech has developed a unique innovation ecosystem that allows enterprise companies and startups to collaborate and innovate together,” Communitech CEO Iain Klugman said. “General Motors Canada is a great addition to this ecosystem, as our startup and mid-sized companies will benefit from having access to a world class automotive company, while GM Canada will be exposed to new concepts, technologies and ways of thinking about opportunities in the automotive sector.”

Carlisle also announced that GM Canada will allocate $1 million to a research chair in advanced materials at the University of Waterloo, and sponsor capstone projects for engineering students who are developing software – a foundational skill for GM Canada’s work on “connected car” technology.

With electric vehicles, self-driving cars and increasing connectivity transforming the automotive sector, GM Canada was awarded a new mandate to pursue R&D and innovation at its Oshawa Engineering Centre in May of this year.

“No company, country or government owns this space, but we see that Canada has distinct advantages in mobile technology, engineering skills, applied research and a strong automotive history,” Carlisle said in his remarks today. “As Canada prepares to invest billions in much-needed urban transportation infrastructure, we need to understand how new automotive technologies and urban mobility approaches can increase infrastructure ROI, accelerate environmental benefits and anchor new, high-skilled Canadian jobs at the forefront of a new automotive innovation supply chain.”

GM already sells three plug-in electric vehicle models in Canada, and next year will launch the affordable, all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, a Canadian-built vehicle with a 320-kilometre range on a full charge.

The company also has a “Teen Driver” app that allows parents to track their children’s driving behaviour, and is working on various other tech-related initiatives.

GM Canada is the latest large company to announce an innovation partnership with Communitech. It joins Thomson Reuters, TD Bank Group, Canon, Canadian Tire, Deloitte and Manulife, all of which have opened innovation spaces at the Communitech Hub over the past two and a half years.

As outlined by Klugman in a recent article about Communitech’s corporate innovation model, the presence of these large companies gives Waterloo Region’s estimated 1,100 startups access to large brands as potential customers, while the large companies tap into startup energy and gain exposure to lean, agile approaches to innovation.

A date for the opening of GM Canada’s innovation research zone has yet to be announced.