Toyota Motor Corp. President Fujio Cho wants to see more technological cooperation among auto companies - from automakers and their suppliers, as well as automakers and their competitors.
His reasoning is typically Toyota: Failing to cooperate, Cho says, is wasteful.
'If we don't join our efforts soon, these new technologies will proliferate,' Cho said. 'Each of them requires a lot of investment. Each individual investment is not good for the industry, and it is not good for consumers.'
Automakers around the world are spending billions to develop new drivetrains for the future. Among them is a big push for fuel cell technology, as well as hybrid engines and ultra-low-emission vehicles. In recent years, the U.S.-based manufacturers have been working in various consortia to develop advances in fuel efficiency and on other fronts. Non-U.S. companies, such as Toyota, have been excluded from those projects.
Cho envisioned the inconvenience of a Toyota owner wanting to recharge an electric car and having to search for a Toyota recharging station.
'Not only is it extremely expensive for each company to develop its own system, it is wasteful,' he said in an interview at the NADA convention. 'It is an inefficient use of manpower.'
'Waste' is a dirty word for Toyota management. The Toyota Production System, which has been copied by Toyota competitors around the world, calls for the continual elimination of waste and inefficiency at every workstation of a company.
Cho actually likened industry cooperation on advanced technology to the spread of Toyota Production System practices in North America and Europe. Cho noted that Toyota had opened its doors to an endless stream of visitors who wanted to study and adopt Toyota's factory practices in order to improve their own performance.
Automakers ranging from General Motors to Porsche AG have installed Toyota-inspired practices in their factories.
Toyota has already made some headway in technical cooperation. Last year, it announced a deal with GM to work together on an advanced engine system. Details of that relationship have not been revealed. Cho hinted that it might be possible to link up with GM on other activities.
But he acknowledged that Toyota also needs to look through its own supply chain for cooperative opportunities. Last year, the automaker created a new division to perform research and development on fuel cell technology. The venture relies heavily on the technical resources of Toyota's key electronics supplier, Denso Corp., in which Toyota maintains a financial stake.
Toyota indicates that it will work with some of its other suppliers to develop new technologies. It also has signaled in recent weeks that it intends to step up collaboration with Daihatsu, its automaker affiliate.
'We need to get our own back yard cleaned up before we go looking elsewhere,' Cho said.
The Toyota executive dismissed the common complaint that sharing technologies among competitors would be anti-competitive.
'Even given common standards in technology, there are still many ways for manufacturers to compete,' he said. 'There are a lot of applications that would allow competition to flourish.'
Anti-competitive issues almost blocked Toyota's effort to launch a U.S. cooperative venture in the early 1980s. At that time, Toyota and General Motors agreed to build small cars together in Fremont, Calif., in a 50-50 venture called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. At that time, GM was having difficulty producing small cars profitably.
But Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. adamantly opposed the Toyota-GM linkup. They attempted to block the venture with a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that NUMMI would give GM and Toyota a huge competitive advantage in the U.S. small-car market.
The complaint eventually was resolved, NUMMI opened in 1984, and both Ford and Chrysler later opened their own small-car joint ventures with Japanese competitors.