THE UNOBVIOUS ONES: Caught between a rock and COVID-19

The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.



More than 3,000 people work at Stellantis’ assembly plant in Brampton, Ont., and they need to leave for home each day in one piece. That’s the objective for Diana Di Michele, a health and safety specialist in the factory.

“Every day is a challenge, seeing things constantly change, especially with the guidelines around COVID,” she said. “I have to get the message through that ‘yesterday we did this, but today we have to do that.’ I understand people’s frustrations about it, but I’m a social person and it’s easy for me to stay calm and relate to them but get the message across.”

Di Michele and her supervisor are health and safety specialists in the plant, and a team of safety representatives reports to them.

“Much of my job is compliance-based, making sure we’re meeting corporate and government guidelines. I manage routine safety tracking and data as well as investigations when things come up.

“Some days I can be on the floor from one end of the plant to the other, or on the computer updating policies.”

The 32-year-old went to nursing school, “but I’m a germophobe, and it wasn’t for me, so I switched and got a degree in health and safety.”

Starting in 2015, she spent two summers as a vacation replacement worker at the Brampton plant. When she graduated in 2016, she was hired for health and safety at the FCA casting plant in Toronto.

She went back to Brampton in her current position in 2018.

“That’s where I started and I knew everyone, and it’s a bigger plant and more of a learning opportunity.”

In addition to physical safety, “we’re focusing on a wellness approach to safety. The focus will go beyond and look at mental health as well.”



There are market nuances when it comes to luxury vehicles and it’s Alain Leynaert’s job as product planning manager at Jaguar Land Rover in Mississauga, Ont., to understand them.

He consults with his U.S. counterparts to determine models and powertrains for Canadian buyers.

“We offer a higher entry spec in Range Rover and Sport than in the U.S. and a richer number of V-8 models,” Leynaert said.

“[Canadians] tend to expect more features than in other markets.”

There are more U.S. buyers who primarily want the nameplate and will take a lesser-equipped model that’s at the limit of their budget, he said.

“For Canadians, it’s a luxury product at a luxury price, and that’s where the [market] intricacies come in.” Leynaert, 39, grew up in a “car-obsessed family,” and a birthday gift of Car and Driver magazine steered him to journalism school to be an auto writer.

“A research company in the U.K. wanted someone to join their team in Canada writing a newsletter, and I got in there in 2005. I was writing articles on sales volumes.

I was a senior specifications researcher, which is right down to how many cupholders a car has, and I realized I was interested in product management.”

Leynaert was hired into his current role in 2016 after a mentor moved to Jaguar Land Rover.

An average day involves analyzing sales data and market trends, including forecasting upcoming electric vehicles, “and finding white space and something to fit into those areas.”

“We’re working three to four years out, dealing with [Jaguar Land Rover in the U.K.] to ensure we’re aligned. Anybody can learn anything, but you can’t fake automotive passion, and that’s why I do this.”

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