Toyota doesn’t enter into too many technology sharing arrangements but that may soon change with the Japanese giant telling reporters last week that some of its powertrain modules – including engines and transmissions – could be offered for sale to rival brands.
Timing of the announcement is in tune with the industry’s global shift to variable modular components which spread development costs across multiple models.
While many powertrain components for all manufacturers are developed by independent suppliers, Toyota has a close-knit cross-shareholding group who work in unison with its own engineers which means until now those components often simply don’t fit non-Toyota vehicles.
But things are changing as Toshiyuki Mizushina, Toyota’s powertrain boss, explained: “Toyota suppliers produce a lot of technology which can only be used by Toyota. We want to change that to a system where we develop technology with our suppliers at an early stage… so they can make that technology available to non-Toyota customers.”
That’s good news for Japanese suppliers like Denso and Aisin – currently half of their businesses rely on Toyota – as they will be able to be more competitive with European rivals like Robert Bosh and Continental.
The move is very much a reflection of the increasing costs of product development – escalating considerably as global emissions and fuel consumption regulations progressively tighten. Last year Toyota spent US$9 billion on R&D – 73 per-cent more than the equivalent spend in 2010 – and Volkswagen Group’s figure doubled in the same period.
Toyota TNGA platform
Toyota TNGA platform
“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 investment costs,” revealed Denso’s Yoshifumi Kato.
Toyota’s current joint projects include the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 co-development program, chassis and powertrain sharing projects with the BMW Group and the supply of Toyota engines to Lotus and hybrid powertrain system to Mazda.