TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp.'s new global powertrain chief has tackled some big challenges in his three decades of designing engines for the automaker.
Hirohisa Kishi not only executed the Toyota pickup's hulking V-8 powerplant, but he also led the troubleshooting of throttle control problems in the 2010 unintended acceleration recall crisis.
But those trials are not as daunting as what he now faces, Kishi says.
As the recently appointed president of Toyota's in-house Powertrain Co., Kishi must keep Toyota's internal combustion engines competitive in the dawning age of electric vehicles.
"Now the doors and possibilities are really opening up," Kishi told Automotive News. "In this changing era, our competitors are not just carmakers. They are coming from all directions."
Toyota's commitment to its trademark hybrid technology actually complicates the task. Toyota is rolling out a new generation of more fuel-efficient and powerful engines as part of a shift to what it calls its TNGA modular vehicle platform. TNGA, short for Toyota New Global Architecture, will yield cars and trucks that are lighter and simpler to build and modify.
But to contain cost, the TNGA engines must be designed for double duty. They must be fuel-efficient and inexpensive enough to pair with a costly hybrid system that clamps on an electric motor and pricey battery. But they also must be powerful and dynamic enough for a traditional vehicle.
Toyota's solution has been adopting a lean-burning, direct-injection Atkinson-cycle engine for the hybrid, and then tweaking that engine for its nonhybrid stablemate. It marks the first time Toyota has put an Atkinson engine in a vehicle that isn't a gasoline-electric one.
The technology leverages some clever tricks in air intake and achieves impressive thermal efficiency rates of as high as 41 percent. But even Kishi, who took over as powertrain boss in January, admits they are incremental advances.