The Toyota alliances: a preamble

Over two years ago, the first thing this author wrote for Kaizen Factor included these passages:

Although Toyota President Akio Toyoda famously stated at the 2009 Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan that “Toyota is not the kind of company that is good at alliances”, his namesake company’s actions have sometimes belied these words. Toyota owns 51% of Daihatsu and a similar majority stake in Japanese large truck maker Hino…Seeking Isuzu’s expertise in smaller, lighter-duty diesels than Hino’s offerings, Toyota then stepped in and acquired a 5.9% stake in Isuzu. (There is also a) long string of outside product exchanges and collaborations between General Motors and Toyota (including Toyota-engineered vehicles rebadged as Geos, Chevrolets and Pontiacs assembled at the NUMMI plant in California as well as the Chevrolet Cavalier rebadged as a Toyota for the Japanese Domestic Market that was every bit as disastrous as it sounds)…

The so-called “Toyobaru coupe”…is but the most high-profile of several collaborations between the two carmakers, all cemented by Toyota’s 16.7% stake in Subaru. Reminiscent of the GM/Toyota joint ventures is that with France’s PSA Peugeot Citroën which led to the sub-Yaris Toyota Aygo. And if the list of carmakers involved in collaborations with Toyota strikes you as too prosaic, don’t forget that the friendship between Aston Martin chairman Dr. Ulrich Bez and Akio Toyoda…led to the jaw-dropping decision for Aston Martin to morph the Toyota/Scion iQ into the Aston Martin Cygnet. Also, ties between Lotus and Toyota go much further back than the 2004 decision to replace the Lotus Elise’s ancient Rover engine with Toyota’s 2ZZ-GE 1.8-liter 4, to recently retired Lotus Director of Vehicle Engineering Roger Becker’s longstanding admiration for Toyota’s reliable high-performance engines and Lotus’ development of the suspension calibrations for the first Toyota MR2 and the Mk. II and Mk. III versions of the Toyota Supra.

Flash forward to February of 2012, and a speech by Toyota Motor North America President & COO Yoshi Inaba at the Economic Club of Chicago on the first day of press conferences ahead of the city’s auto show sang quite a different tune from Akio Toyoda’s 2009 statement:

In the past…Toyota was one of those companies that liked to “go-it-alone.”

But that’s changing in a major way.

Under the leadership of our young, dynamic global president…Akio Toyoda…we are reaching out to cutting-edge companies to ensure that Toyota products will meet the changing needs of our customers and society.

For example, in the last 21 months:

•we forged an alliance with Tesla to bring to market an electric RAV4 faster than expected…
•we teamed with Ford to develop hybrid systems for pick-ups and large SUVs…
•we partnered with Microsoft to ensure we have the latest cloud technology to connect future cars anywhere on earth…
•we set up a partnership with computer chip giant… Intel… to develop better inside-car touch,
•gesture and voice technologies that reduce driver distraction…
•and, we formed a partnership with BMW to jointly work on lithium-ion batteries and other environmental technologies.
So there is more to come from Toyota…A LOT MORE.

And we are not alone.

You will see more automotive alliances as car-makers stretch to meet the growing needs of consumers.

Barely a month later, Inaba-san added the following in a Reuters story:

The economic pressure on automakers globally only continues to grow. There will be more deals like the alliance signed last week between GM and Peugeot in an effort to cut costs, in which GM will take a 7 percent stake in the French automaker.

“The global market is pushing automakers to do a much better job and therefore pushing to align or cooperate or work together as a common goal. I don’t think this GM/Peugeot thing is the end of it.”

Deals could take many forms, whether acquisitions or alliances, he said.

Inaba’s newfound enthusiasm for collaboration (or pragmatic reality of the post-Great Recession era) was then echoed throughout Toyota’s ranks, including Toyota GT 86 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, who tells Autocar,

Toyota is now keen to attract fresh partners “if we can jointly produce something exceptional”. The company is now actively hunting for potential ventures

Consider this, then, the preamble that kicks off a series of The Toyota alliances stories that will appear from time to time here on Kaizen Factor, each focusing on a particular carmaker. In our typical detail and trivia-oriented fashion, expect them to be equal parts past, present and future, history lesson, current news, informed speculation and outright wishful thinking on our part.

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