DEARBORN, MI – Ford and Toyota sign an agreement to jointly develop rear-wheel-drive hybrid electric powertrains, noting increasing the fuel efficiency of light-duty pickups and SUVs is imperative to remaining viable in a U.S. market facing increasingly stringent government regulations.
The partners hope to mitigate costs and increase speed-to-market of their products.
“The industry is facing challenges in conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gases,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota executive vice president-research and development, says during a press conference at Ford’s research and development center here.
“In the U.S., society can’t do without trucks and SUVs, and (Environmental Protection Agency) standards are a big challenge for us,” he adds.
While auto makers have made some progress increasing the fuel efficiency of large vehicles, they still have a long way to go to achieve a mandated 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km) for their light-vehicle fleets by 2025.
Both Ford and Toyota offer a number of small, fuel-efficient vehicles that will help drive up their corporate fuel-efficiency ratings, but not enough to counteract the impact of their larger vehicles, they say.
That’s particularly true for Ford, whose fleet is 26.9% pickups and 8.3% SUVs, according to Ward’s data. Toyota’s lineup consists of 11.6% pickups and 5.3% SUVs.
“Competitive, customer and regulatory needs are converging,” says Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president-Global Product Development. “With all of these coming together, you have to get to exceptionally high fuel economy.”
Kuzak does not detail the joint-venture’s light-truck fuel-economy goals but hints they may surpass those of General Motors’ 2-mode hybrid SUVs and pickups, which achieve 20/23 mpg (11.7-10.2 L/100 km) city/highway.
The 2-mode technology was developed with truck applications in mind by GM, BMW, Chrysler and Daimler. That partnership no longer is active, but GM has said it is developing its own technology.
Although GM now faces increased competition from the combined resources of Toyota and Ford, spokesman Kevin Kelly says,
“We understand collaboration and partnerships will play a role in development (of new technologies of the future). “We do welcome Toyota and Ford to a hybrid segment we created three years ago.”
Kelly also confirms to Ward’s development of GM’s next-generation hybrid truck powertrain is under way but declines to discuss timing.
Sales of GM’s hybrid pickups and SUVs have been slow, with 7,086 deliveries in 2010, according to Ward’s data. Through July of this year, sales totaled 5,157.
Ford’s Kuzak is unfazed by GM’s low sales, noting fuel economy is becoming increasingly important among consumers and will drive more future sales.
The next step in the Ford-Toyota JV is a feasibility study, during which the auto makers will “determine the best types of systems” to develop, he says.
Following the study period, teams will be formed to work on the project. Most of the development will take place at existing Ford and Toyota R&D centers, with no plans for new facilities. Neither auto maker discloses what resources will go towards the project.
A formal agreement is expected to be signed next year, and the first vehicles to feature the jointly developed technology will debut “this decade,” Kuzak says.
The seeds of the partnership were planted when Ford CEO Alan Mulally had a chance encounter with Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda at an airport several years ago, Uchiyamada says. “They continued their discussions and realized there were many similarities between our corporate cultures and many areas we could collaborate on.”
However, Kuzak and Uchiyamada are adamant the JV will not lead to similarities between the auto makers’ respective vehicles or their competitive stance in the market. Each company will determine the calibration and performance dynamics characteristics of their respective vehicles.
“Everything customers expect in terms of DNA and capability, what makes them Ford trucks, will continue to be there with hybrid powertrains developed with Toyota,” Kuzak says.
In addition to RWD hybrid powertrains, Ford and Toyota plan to develop telematics standards, which will focus on “backend” technology, such as “Wi-Fi and Bluetooth protocols and data streams that come from the Internet,” he says.
“The customer-facing experience, the look, sound and feel, always will be uniquely Ford,” Kuzak says.
Adds Uchiyamada: “Toyota has also invested heavily in telematics in various countries around the world. By sharing our knowhow and experience, we would like to offer even better telematics services in the future.”
The telematics standards will be developed in partnership with “industry consortiums,” such as the Society of Automotive Engineers, Kuzak says, noting the joint work by Ford and Toyota may benefit the entire industry. “Working together probably will help facilitate (telematics) standardization more quickly.”