Project Arrow, Canada’s home-grown vehicle of the future, is slowly becoming a reality
As a people, Canadians lament the loss of the Avro Canada CF-105 fighter jet, fondly known as the Avro Arrow. Developed in the 1950s in the Toronto suburbs, it had a projected maximum speed over Mach 2, which made it a beacon of post-war optimism and a source of pride for all Canadians. With groundbreaking technology and performance, the Arrow was the kind of military aircraft that stood apart from all others. It highlighted Canadian engineering and ingenuity, and when the project was unceremoniously cancelled in 1959, the dreams of many in this country were shattered.
The CF-105 has been mythologized in popular culture and the persistent rumours overshadow the reasons for its cancellation. Plans that were ordered destroyed were later discovered, and some people involved in the project even suggested that one prototype is secretly hidden away.
Whether you believe the factual account or embrace the folklore surrounding the Avro Arrow, it’s the sad truth that Canada hasn’t had many international projects for its citizens to rally around—save for the Canadarm used on the Space Shuttle and, perhaps, Nickelback. That’s about to change.
What the Avro Arrow did for Canadians in the 1950s, Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) wants to do today with Project Arrow (minus the cancellation, of course). Given the APMA’s position within the industry, they’ve challenged Canadian companies to develop a home-grown, cutting-edge, production-ready, alternative-fuel vehicle.
Sure, Canada produces a wide range of consumer vehicles, from minivans to one of the most innovative supercars you can buy today; but we’ve never quite had a modern automotive icon to call our own.
Like many good things, the idea sprung from a few particularly smart people who put their heads together. APMA’s president, Flavio Volpe, and its chief technical officer, Colin Singh Dhillon, were brainstorming ideas through which the Canadian automotive industry could better promote itself. They quickly hit on the idea of a giant collaborative project centered around a futuristic automobile. “Project Arrow” would capture the imaginations of Canadians, whether inside the automotive industry or out, and would challenge industry partners to meet the expectations of the future.
Announced in 2020, the endeavour began with a design competition among Canada’s art schools and the distribution of engineering specifications to interested parties. APMA and its members are bootstrapping the project, from the initial design through to the physical concept-vehicle stage, making this an original, Canadian-led undertaking.
The design phase of any project is always the sexiest, because we now can lay eyes upon the form and shape of Project Arrow. The winner of the competition is a team from Carleton University’s School of Industrial Design in Ottawa, which penned an edgy, two-box shape well-established in the crossover design vernacular. The vehicle features sliding doors, directly influenced by the actuation of the pilot’s canopy on the Avro Arrow.
If you want to know what the automobile of the future is going to look like, Project Arrow is a great place to start. The design brief set expectations for a 2025 model-year vehicle, so the technical specifications include concepts and features that are not currently available on any production vehicle. The CASE mobility concept is generally discussed among auto industry insiders and it’s central to Project Arrow.
CASE stands for “Connected,” “Autonomous” (or Automated), “Shared,” and “Electric.” Together, the concepts represent the future of personal vehicles. Project Arrow will leverage 5G networks to support its safety and entertainment systems. Autonomous vehicle technology is currently limited to high SAE Level 2, but Volpe says there are dozens of companies prepared to provide the software to support Level 3.
The notion of the sharing economy is also central to the concept. In such an arrangement, you could choose to share your EV, generating some revenue for those times when you’re not using it. Most vehicles sit idle for the vast majority of your ownership tenure, so the idea is certainly feasible. Shared-economy platforms for houses (Airbnb) and cars (Turo) have already proven their popularity.
While electric propulsion is also central to the CASE concept, the design brief for Project Arrow also includes the option for a hydrogen fuel cell, which is a compelling solution on its own. However, as manufacturers and governments around the world move towards EVs, there’s a greater likelihood the final concept will be all-electric.
CASE provides for many new, human-centric services and central to Project Arrow is caregiving. Imagine that your car could look after one of your loved ones. Assuming SAE Level 4 autonomous capabilities, for example, you could use your vehicle to send your parent to a medical appointment or your child to hockey practice, all while ensuring passenger safety, including monitoring the health of the occupants.
Key technical considerations of the vehicle go well beyond what we know today and include a focus on occupant safety, intelligent use of materials, and extracting as much mass from the design as possible. Assuming electric propulsion, the vehicle could easily match the acceleration figures of today’s sports cars.
Central to Project Arrow is an AI-driven database of suppliers that will ultimately be used to streamline a virtual buying process and, most importantly, a final virtual build of the vehicle, component by component, supplier by supplier.
To date, Volpe and Dhillon have assembled a list of heavy-hitters, ranging from provincial and federal ministers to experts from the Canadian office of engineering-software firm Autodesk, professionals from Porsche Consulting, and the inimitable John Komar, executive director of the Automotive Centre of Excellence at Ontario Tech University. Top industry executives like Montreal-bred FCA design chief Ralph Gilles and former president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Ray Tanguay are also bringing their knowledge and expertise to Project Arrow.
With the winning concept announced, the project is solidly past its second-phase goalpost, and those suppliers who responded to Project Arrow’s RFP process are currently being evaluated. At the same time, top-to-bottom engineering and design work is forging ahead, including everything from chassis construction and drivetrain to interior and vehicle systems.
While all of the work behind Project Arrow is now digital, it will culminate in late 2022 with the unveiling of the final physical concept vehicle. We’ll certainly be keeping a close eye for any updates on this fascinating project, so stay tuned.