Toy­ota un­locks its en­gine tech­nol­ogy

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

TOKYO: Long guarded about what was be­neath the hood of its pi­o­neer­ing Prius cars, Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp plans to open up its powertrain tech­nol­ogy to ri­vals, hop­ing this will boost sales and speed up the in­dus­try’s shift to lower-emis­sion ve­hi­cles. An­nounc­ing last week it would ex­pand its gaso­line hybrid tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment, the world’s largest au­tomaker said it would con­sider sell­ing com­plete powertrain mod­ules - en­gines, trans­mis­sions and other drive com­po­nents - to its com­peti­tors.

The prospect of giv­ing ri­vals ac­cess to “one-size-fits-all” pow­er­trains comes as cars are in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on com­put­er­ized com­po­nents, mak­ing it eas­ier to de­sign sim­i­lar parts across model ranges. The in­dus­try has moved on from com­pet­ing largely on me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing. That trend will likely ac­cel­er­ate as au­tomak­ers face pres­sure from reg­u­la­tors to fur­ther cut car emis­sions and de­velop more long-range elec­tric ve­hi­cles. As cars be­come more like glo­ri­fied com­put­ers, au­tomak­ers are stan­dar­d­is­ing many me­chan­i­cal parts and com­pet­ing more on style and pack­ag­ing - giv­ing driv­ers a big­ger range of fea­tures from au­to­mated parking to cock­pit concierges.

For Toy­ota, this is a big de­par­ture from hav­ing a tightly-knit net­work of sup­pli­ers keep­ing much of their jointly de­vel­oped tech­nol­ogy exclusive so as to have an engi­neer­ing com­pet­i­tive edge on ri­vals.

“Toy­ota sup­pli­ers pro­duce a lot of tech­nol­ogy which can only be used by Toy­ota,” Toshiyuki Mizushima, pres­i­dent of Toy­ota’s powertrain com­pany, told re­porters. “We want to change that to a sys­tem where we de­velop tech­nol­ogy with our sup­pli­ers at an ear­lier stage ... so they can make that tech­nol­ogy avail­able to non-Toy­ota cus­tomers.”

Mizushima, who joined Toy­ota a year ago from group com­pany Aisin Seiki Co, noted, for ex­am­ple, that past ver­sions of Toy­ota’s hybrid sys­tem didn’t fit other au­tomak­ers’ cars, lim­it­ing sup­pli­ers’ op­tions to sell to non-Toy­ota cus­tomers.

Pow­er­trains com­bine parts of­ten made sep­a­rately by sev­eral in­de­pen­dent parts mak­ers, but Toy­ota’s are unique in that they are made by its group sup­pli­ers, al­low­ing engi­neers at the au­tomaker and its sup­pli­ers to col­lab­o­rate in de­vel­op­ment.

“Un­til now, we couldn’t sell the same in­verter used in Toy­ota’s pre­vi­ous hybrid sys­tem to other cus­tomers be­cause it wouldn’t fit the mo­tor, or the voltage was dif­fer­ent,” said Yoshi­fumi Kato, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of engi­neer­ing R&D at Denso Corp, Toy­ota’s big­gest sup­plier. “We can avoid this is­sue if sup­pli­ers can sell the en­tire sys­tem.” The move should help auto parts com­pa­nies such as Denso and Aisin spread their cus­tomer base and com­pete bet­ter against global ri­vals in­clud­ing Robert Bosch and Con­ti­nen­tal. Cur­rently, Toy­ota ac­counts for around half the an­nual sales at Denso and Aisin.

Spread­ing the R&D bur­den

Mizushima said he would like to see Toy­ota of­fer its powertrain mod­ules to all its ri­vals, in an in­dus­try where more au­tomak­ers are set­ting up exclusive tieups on parts. Nis­san Mo­tor Co this year launched the In­finiti QX30 lux­ury com­pact cross­over us­ing en­gines and other parts de­vel­oped and made by Daim­ler AG’s Mercedes and its sup­pli­ers. Toy­ota al­ready shares com­po­nents for Fuji Heavy In­dus­tries Ltd’s Subaru BRZ sports car un­der a joint de­vel­op­ment agree­ment. In open­ing up its pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy, Toy­ota is ac­knowl­edg­ing the es­ca­lat­ing costs of R&D, as global au­tomak­ers vie to de­velop hybrid and all-elec­tric cars, self-driv­ing cars and cars con­nected to mo­bile tech­nol­ogy.

Toy­ota’s R&D spend last year was 73 per­cent more than in 2010 at around $9 bil­lion, while spend­ing at Volk­swa­gen , its big­gest com­peti­tor, more than dou­bled over the same pe­riod. As au­tomak­ers are hav­ing to in­vest more, they are cram­ming as much tech­nol­ogy as pos­si­ble into each ve­hi­cle, while lim­it­ing price in­creases. Toy­ota and its sup­pli­ers ex­pect their newer pro­duc­tion plat­form will mean mak­ing a lot more of fewer com­mon parts across its mod­els, and sell­ing them to other au­tomak­ers to earn back more of the money spent on R&D.

“If we take a com­po­nent de­vel­oped with Toy­ota and sell a mil­lion to Toy­ota and another mil­lion to other cus­tomers, it would dou­ble our re­turn on our de­vel­op­ment costs,” said Denso’s Kato. Toy­ota’s ri­vals, too, should be able to keep their own de­vel­op­ment and pro­cure­ment costs down if they can source off-the-shelf from Toy­ota, say in­dus­try con­sul­tants.

“It could be a win-win for Toy­ota and its ri­vals be­cause Toy­ota could de­velop another sales line, while cus­tomers could gain ac­cess to com­po­nents which may be cheaper and of higher qual­ity than the same parts de­vel­oped in-house,” said Takeshi Miyao, Asia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Carnorama. — Reuters

SAN FRAN­CISCO: An Uber driver­less car waits in traf­fic dur­ing a test drive in San Fran­cisco. The ride-hail­ing com­pany is re­fus­ing to obey de­mands by the state’s Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles that it stop pick­ing up San Fran­cisco pas­sen­gers in spe­cially equipped Volvo SUVs. — AP

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