NAGOYA, Japan -- After trailing many of its competitors in the recent engine- and transmission-technology wars, Toyota Motor Corp. will launch a swath of powertrains in the next several years, a top powertrain r&d executive said.
Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain r&d, said that Toyota is investing heavily in turbocharged engines, larger displacement Atkinson cycle engines, continuously variable and fixed-gear automatic transmissions, and new hybrid and fuel cell technologies.
Here's an update on Toyota's efforts:
Turbocharging: German automakers and Ford Motor Co. have made inroads using turbochargers to boost power while keeping engine displacements smaller and more efficient.
And while Toyota is joining the fight -- Lexus recently trademarked "NX 2.0T" for a two-liter turbo version of its upcoming Lexus compact crossover -- Saga is not convinced that Toyota will emphasize turbocharging across many product lines.
Saga believes that "upsizing" the displacement of engines, and running them on the more efficient Atkinson cycle of fuel combustion -- used in Toyota's hybrid system -- may deliver better power gains without sacrificing fuel economy.
While a larger displacement Atkinson cycle engine may offer less top-end horsepower than a traditional Otto internal combustion engine, its increased thermal efficiency allows for strong acceleration and better fuel economy, Saga said.
Saga declined to provide a horsepower target for the upcoming Toyota turbo engine. While Saga appreciates the performance boost of turbos, he said he was not convinced that turbocharging is technology that "makes the world better."
Many buyers of turbo-engine cars do so for the performance boost, not the possibility of better fuel economy.
In the interim, Toyota also is examining using water/steam injection to make its turbocharging fuel combustion more efficient, but "we will need giant computers to compile the microprocessors" to calculate the best fuel-air ratio for a water-injected turbo, Saga said.
Transmissions: Toyota has followed Honda Motor Co. in using continuously variable transmissions for a key volume nameplate, the Corolla.
Toyota plans to expand CVT use, but only where it makes sense, Saga said.
He described further development of CVTs as "crucial and important" to Toyota.
"The Corolla CVT has great acceleration. Drivers are thinking they are in a car with a great automatic transmission," Saga said in an interview with journalists here, after a Toyota global briefing about future platforms and design.
While the CVT could work with the Camry -- rivaling the Honda Accord's 2013 CVT -- Saga believes there are limits to the technology and Americans' desire for it.
The next Camry, slated to arrive in the 2017 model year, will have "a next-generation A/T, probably not a CVT," Saga said.
Any larger vehicle, such as the Highlander crossover, would have too much power and weight demand for a CVT to handle. But smaller cars such as the next-generation Yaris could warrant a CVT, Saga said.