TRI’s P4 test vehicle was introduced at CES 2019, but according to Toyota’s mobility lead, better cooperation between government and industry is needed to close a “huge standardization gap” in the AV space. (Toyota)

Toyota focuses its advanced-mobility R&D

Toyota’s new Group VP of Advanced Mobility R&D discusses development of new mobility technologies and why a careful process is vital.

With a growing number of R&D activities centered on advanced mobility, defining and aligning the efforts are the goals of a newly created position at Toyota Motor North America: Group VP of Advanced Mobility R&D. In that role, Jeff Makarewicz (below) is focused on technical, business and product strategy/planning. SAE’s Detroit reporter Kami Buchholz recently talked with Makarewicz at the TMNA R&D center in Saline, Michigan, to learn more. Highlights from their conversation:

How is Toyota approaching advanced mobility?
It begins with redefining what we want to be as a company. Toyota started as an automated loom manufacturer, transitioned to an automobile maker and now we’re shifting to being an auto-mobility provider. Our goal is to improve the quality of life by finding better ways to move and connect people and things, with a primary focus on safety, freedom of movement and sustainability.

Trucks, SUVs, and sedans are part of our mobility future, but we’re also looking at other areas to apply the Toyota DNA. For instance, we have proof-of-concept fuel-cell electric trucks delivering goods to distribution centers from the Port of Los Angeles. We’re using a pair of 114-kWh hydrogen fuel cell stacks, leveraged from the Toyota Mirai sedan, to create a 500-kWh (670 hp)/1,375 lb-ft (1,864-Nm) Kenworth Class-8 electrified truck that emits only water vapor.

What’s the current state of advanced mobility?
There are a lot of small bets being placed because people are trying to understand where the value proposition is and what type of benefit can be provided. A lot of disruptive technologies are going through a hype-curve right now, and sometimes an over-hyped technology can set false expectations. The hype cycle is really a learning curve, so that’s why there is some pull-back and some consolidation with ride-share programs and automated shuttles. The takeaways are: We don’t want to adopt too early. We don’t want to give up too soon and we also don’t want to adopt too late. So, placing small bets and learning early is important.

Why is proof of concept important for advanced mobility?
We have five local chief engineers that are leading our unique vehicle development work in North America. They need to have a warm-fuzzy feeling for a new technology before they agree to apply it on a vehicle, and a proof of concept helps provide that feeling that a technology is ready. We don’t want to risk deploying something before it’s ready. Proof-of-concept also helps our researchers. If you only do research work and there’s no connection to a vehicle or a product, sometimes you can’t recognize what’s required to make a technology ready.

What’s falling short for advanced mobility?
We need better cooperation between government and industry. Many automated technologies are being developed without regulations. We have guidelines for self-certification. But there is still a huge standardization gap. We’re on a number of SAE committees looking at the safe deployment of SAE Level 4/5. We’re also a member of the Michigan Governor’s Council for Future Mobility. So, while things are happening, we need government and industry working together to accelerate the activities.

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