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Long guarded about what was beneath the hood of its pioneering Prius cars, Toyota Motor Corp plans to open up its powertrain technology to rivals, hoping this will boost sales and speed up the industry’s shift to lower-emission vehicles.

Announcing last week it would expand its gasoline hybrid technology development, the world’s largest automaker said it would consider selling complete powertrain modules – engines, transmissions and other drive components – to its competitors.

The prospect of giving rivals access to “one-size-fits-all” powertrains comes as cars are increasingly dependent on computerized components, making it easier to design similar parts across model ranges. The industry has moved on from competing largely on mechanical engineering.

That trend will likely accelerate as automakers face pressure from regulators to further cut car emissions and develop more long-range electric vehicles.

As cars become more like glorified computers, automakers are standardizing many mechanical parts and competing more on style and packaging – giving drivers a bigger range of features from automated parking to cockpit concierges.

For Toyota, this is a big departure from having a tightly-knit network of suppliers keeping much of their jointly developed technology exclusive so as to have an engineering competitive edge on rivals.

“Toyota suppliers produce a lot of technology which can only be used by Toyota,” Toshiyuki Mizushima, president of Toyota’s powertrain company, told reporters. “We want to change that to a system where we develop technology with our suppliers at an earlier stage … so they can make that technology available to non-Toyota customers.”

Mizushima, who joined Toyota a year ago from group company Aisin Seiki Co, noted, for example, that past versions of Toyota’s hybrid system didn’t fit other automakers’ cars, limiting suppliers’ options to sell to non-Toyota customers.

Powertrains combine parts often made separately by several independent parts makers, but Toyota’s are unique in that they are made by its group suppliers, allowing engineers at the automaker and its suppliers to collaborate in development.
(Reuters)