TOKYO – Toyota’s top digitalization guru is touting big breakthroughs through the application of software and connectivity services, including faster product cycles and more fuel-efficient cars.
Some of achievements will reach markets as early as this fall, when the second-generation Lexus NX arrives. The redesigned compact crossover gets over-the-air update ability, while the hybrid version has a predictive efficiency function that helps optimize use of the battery.
Japan’s biggest automaker has about 3,000 people working in software development at Toyota Motor Corp. and its technology subsidiaries Woven Planet and Toyota Connected, Chief Product Integration Officer Keiji Yamamoto said in a Wednesday briefing. And across the entire Toyota Group, including affiliated suppliers such as Denso and Aisin, there are 18,000 software workers.
They are ramping up Toyota’s dive into the digital age as automakers worldwide race to tap a host of new technologies that promise to make automobiles more like smartphones.
Toyota has been slow to offer over-the-air updates, for instance. Toyota only introduced its first vehicles capable of over-the-air updates in February, the Lexus LS500h and Mirai fuel cell sedan.
But that picks up pace with the Lexus NX, which gets real-time updates of mapping and media.
Meanwhile, the NX also comes equipped with a so-called Predictive Efficient Drive feature that leverages software and connectivity to learn a person’s driving habits, predict the road ahead, analyze real-time traffic and optimize the charging and discharging of the hybrid battery.
The NX’s system previews a geofencing technology that Toyota is developing to help maximize the efficiency of the hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, Yamamoto said.
The idea is to predict and track when a car will enter certain road environments, such as city centres, where battery drive should be prioritized. The vehicle will sense this through the on-board connectivity systems and automatically switch to electric mode for a greener drive.
“The geofence technology is a kind of navigation technology that uses the cloud,” Yamamoto said. “This is under development, and we will commercialize it in the near future.”