Ford and Toyota launch hybrid system co-development for light trucks

  • 26-Aug-2011 02:55 EDT
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The challenge of reducing CO2 emissions in full-size pickups and SUVs, while maintaining vehicle payload and trailer-towing capability, led Ford and Toyota to launch the hybrid transmission joint development.

Ford and Toyota will combine their hybrid powertrain engineering resources to tackle the challenge of improving light-duty truck fuel efficiency. The automakers, whose combined hybrid-related patents, patent applications, and invention disclosures number in the thousands, plan to co-develop an all-new hybrid propulsion system and component technologies for rear-drive, high-input-torque applications.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) announcement was made on August 22 by Derrick Kuzak, Ford Group Vice President, Global Product Development, and Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota Executive Vice President, R&D, at Ford’s Scientific Laboratory facility in Dearborn. A formal agreement is expected early in 2012.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda described the MOU as building “a global, long-term relationship with Ford.” Analysts who follow powertrain developments do not expect the new transmission to be in production before 2017.

The OEMs also agreed to collaborate on infotainment system standards and technologies.

The goal of co-developing hybrid systems for trucks and larger vehicles is to “share investment costs and, most importantly, bring the technology to market faster than if we had pursued it individually,” explained Nancy Gioia, Ford’s Director of Global Electrification. Integration of the new transmission with future vehicles will be done by each partner independently.

Gioia told AEI that Ford has been studying a variety of hybrid architectures for pickup truck and SUV applications for over 10 years, but none investigated thus far were “the right technical solution.”

Toyota has followed a similar course, noted Bruce Brownlee, Senior Executive Administrator for External Affairs at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, MI. He noted the program’s potential to achieve “significant economies of scale” once the production stage is reached, as well as optimizing shared engineering resources.

Boost scale, reduce cost

Brownlee said discussions with Ford began long before the U.S. government’s announcement of 2017-2025 fuel efficiency standards.

In addition to its developments with Ford, Toyota will continue to pursue various electrified transmission developments with its kieretsu partner, Aisin. “That’s part of the exploration, to find synergies,” Brownlee said.

Aisin supplies the L110F “E-CVT” power-split transmission used in the $112,000 Lexus LS600h L luxury sedan. Though it was designed to handle 380 lb•ft (580 N•m) generated by the car’s 5.0-L V8, the L110F is deemed inadequate to handle the significantly greater input torque ratings and extreme towing and payload requirements of light trucks, according to independent transmission experts.

Those unique requirements spurred GM to develop its Allison 2-mode hybrid bus transmission for light-duty truck use, and launch the Global Hybrid Cooperation with partners BMW and Daimler in 2006. Despite the 2-mode unit delivering up to 25% greater fuel efficiency in full-size SUVs and pickups compared with non-hybridized versions, high unit costs have led the GHC partners to initiate high-torque-capacity 8-speed planetary automatic programs for some large vehicles currently in the pipeline.

“Cost plays such a major role in transmission development, and many of the OEMs have been talking to each other about sharing technologies in order to achieve greater scale,” noted Eric Fedewa, Director of Global Powertrain and Components Forecasts at IHS Automotive. He said he wasn’t surprised by the Ford-Toyota announcement.

“The new CAFE regulations reflect the reality of the OEMs’ product and technology portfolios,” he explained. Both companies are keenly interested in the technology “accelerators” (including electrification) for light-truck CO2 reduction that are built into the U.S. government’s 2017-2025 legislation.

Fedewa also noted North America’s unique position as the “island” for light-duty truck production and technology, compared with global passenger car programs, and its role in the agreement.

“Compared with Ford, trucks aren’t as big a focus of Toyota’s product strategy. Their full-size truck program represents much lower volumes, and they want to decrease cost of reducing CO2 emissions. Getting together with Ford might be a way to help Toyota do that through greater scale,” Fedewa said.

Shared facility not yet decided

Brownlee and Gioia discounted the notion that one partner would end up dominating the venture. “We come together with equal technology backgrounds, hybrid know-how, and our customer focus,” Gioia stated. “It was impressive to observe how quickly our technical teams aligned based on initial system requirements.”

Both executives said that in the initial feasibility stage of the program, there are no plans to create a dedicated engineering and development facility with co-located Ford and Toyota staff, as the GHC partners did in suburban Detroit.

“You do need engineers dedicated to a project like this, though they're located in Japan and in Michigan," Brownlee noted. He said project timelines and communication channels are being established.

The subject of intellectual property, both proprietary and shared, can be prickly in collaborative ventures, according to industry analysts. But for an example of success, they point to the GM-Ford 6-speed automatic transaxle joint development—a “benchmark” program that created the widely acclaimed 6T70/75 and 6F.

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