On the surface, it might seem like Ford and Toyota would mean nothing to each other except for being sworn rivals. It's never that simple. These companies recently announced that they plan to collaborate on two crucial areas: hybrid drivelines and vehicle telematics.
Thanks to the Prius, Toyota is usually seen as the king of hybrids, but Ford has its own gasoline/electric system, receiving favorable reaction from both critics and buyers in vehicles like the Fusion and Escape hybrids. The Ford setup seems to be generally smoother in the way it switches modes from battery to gas power and vice versa.
As equal partners, the two auto giants plan to make a rear-wheel-drive hybrid system, which they will then drop into pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. They stress that the joint project relates only to the source of locomotion; each company will have its own products developed separately.
"This agreement brings together the capability of two leaders in hybrid technology to develop a better solution more quickly and affordably," said Derrick Kuzak, vice president of Ford's global product development group.
As it happens, both manufacturers have been working on similar ideas independently of each other. Past communication between the two have included Ford licensing 21 hybrid tech patents from Toyota, with the latter using some of the former's emissions technology. But this venture is said to have begun when Ford's CEO, Alan Mulally bumped into his opposite number, Akio Toyoda, at an airport. A conversation ensued and business cards were exchanged. No doubt that conversation turned to a recent ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which stated that trucks have to average 44 mpg by 2025, with their fuel economy rising incrementally before then.
"This is the kind of collaborative effort required to address the challenges of energy independence and environmental sustainability," said Mulally. After a feasibility study, development work is set to begin next year, in both companies' research departments around the world.
Vehicle telematics includes things like satellite navigation, traffic updates, Bluetooth cellphone integration and in-car internet services. The Blue Oval's MyFord Touch - which evolved from the Sync system - offers voice commands or touchscreen activation of many features listed above, as well as air conditioning and suspension settings in some models. Trouble is, users have found it tricky to operate. Consumer magazines and customer surveys have marked Ford products down because of this.
Toyota, meanwhile, is in the process of rolling out its own version, called Entune. Both systems use software from Microsoft. Having decided that two sets of techno-heads are better than one, just as with the aforementioned hybrid drivetrain project, Ford and Toyota will be working together "on standards and technologies needed to enable a safer, more secure and more convenient experience." That's about as much as anyone is willing to divulge at the moment, and the most significant advances could take place "behind the screen." But this idea of standardization might have greater implications throughout the industry as a whole.