TOKYO — Japan's automakers want to leverage their prized national culture of team cooperation to give themselves a competitive boost on transmissions.
The country's nine automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., have partnered with the country's two biggest transmission suppliers to jointly develop next-generation transmission technologies that can be shared among themselves.
The two supplier members are direct-facing competitors, Toyota Group transmission supplier Aisin AW Co. and Nissan-affiliated Jatco, a specialist in continuously variable transmissions. The entire effort is chaired by Toshiaki Maeda, of Honda.
The competitors' cooperation comes as the industry faces an enormous shift in how vehicles operate and what role the transmission plays.
Not too long ago, the industry had just two kinds of transmissions in general use: automatics and manuals. But the science of transferring a vehicle's power to its wheels has mushroomed into continuously variable, dual-clutch and hybrid transmissions, in addition to reduction gears for electric motors. Tomorrow will bring even more variants and more challenging technologies, the thinking goes.
But some outsiders believe Japan has fallen behind more aggressive r&d efforts in other regions. Japan's automakers hope to counter similar consortia by rivals in places such as Germany and China, where the auto industry partners with academia and the government.
The new effort, Transmission Research Association for Mobility Innovation, or TRAMI, was launched here last month to help automakers bring new technologies to market more quickly.
TRAMI also will partner with universities around Japan to conduct research and cultivate next-generation engineering talent that eventually may feed back into the auto sector.
The consortium won't develop the resulting transmission products itself, Maeda said. The goal is to share the burden of researching new technologies and create a database of ideas that all participants can access.
Maeda said it is too soon to unveil concrete numerical targets or milestones. But focal areas will include lightweighting, reducing friction and energy loss, improving torque, developing next-generation CVTs, enhancing gearboxes for hybrid vehicles and improving reduction gears for future electric cars.
Eyeing technologies needed in 2030, the group also will look at mobility applications.
Maeda said Europe is strong in manual and dual-clutch transmissions, while America is strong in automatic gearboxes. Japan, he said, wants to expand beyond its current competencies in CVTs and hybrid transmissions.
It is not the first time Japan Inc. has circled wagons. In 2014, the country's automakers formed a similar consortium, the Research Association of Automotive Internal Combustion Engines, to develop fuel-sipping combustion engines. This year, the automakers joined hands with energy companies in a venture called Japan H2 Mobility to jump-start construction of a hydrogen refueling stations across the nation.
In 2010, Japan's automakers even formed an alliance to develop auto components that would need no external power source, instead transforming small amounts of vibration, heat or light into the electricity they would need to operate.