What Does The Toyota-BMW Partnership Mean For The Future Of Automobiles?

On 24 January 2013, BMW AG and Toyota finalized their plans to form a partnership. They will now be conducting joint research. Some projects include: developing a fuel-cell vehicle system, lightweight technology, lithium-air batteries, powertrain electrification, and more fuel-efficient sports cars. Despite this joint venture, both companies insist there will not be a capital alliance and that both companies intend to maintain separate brand identities.

Primary Reason for Alliance

Most of Europe’s top ten automakers are now forming research and production partnerships due to the exorbitant costs of green technology. According to BMW’s CEO Norbert Reithofer, the upcoming technological changes will create tremendous challenges for the entire auto industry and teamwork will be the only way to meet those challenges. At a news conference held at Toyota’s Tokyo office in Nagoya, Japan, BMW AG board member Herbert Diess stated that the alliance would boost both companies’ technological competitiveness. According to Mr. Diess, BMW and Toyota share the same vision for new technology.

Toyota’s Vice Chairperson Takeshi Uchiyamada concurred with Mr. Diess regarding their shared vision. Mr. Uchiyamada stated that pooling their resources with BMW’s resources would allow for a more rapid development of new technology. He also stated that it would take a great deal of time and money to develop fuel-cell vehicles otherwise. The Toyota vice chairperson believes that it is necessary for fuel-cell vehicles to become less expensive to produce and purchase if they are to become more widely used. Takeshi Uchiyamada played a lead role in the development of the Prius hybrid during the late 1990s.

BMW’s need to reduce its new fleet’s carbon emissions by approximately one-third by 2020 is another reason for the collaboration. From Toyota’s standpoint, BMW can help strengthen the Toyota diesel vehicle line-up on the European market. As part of their alliance, BMW will steadily supply BMW-made four-cylinder diesel engines to Toyota in 2014 in exchange for Toyota’s help developing the technology for BMW’s EV line-up.

Future Goals

However, BMW’s and Toyota’s primary goal for this collaboration is to develop the lithium-air battery (Li-air), which other researchers are also working on developing. Various researchers, including International Business Machines Corporation, have been attempting to find ways to turn the Li-air’s potentials into practical applications for the past forty years. If these goals are achieved, then the Li-Air technology could eventually extend the range of electric vehicles (EVs) up to 500 miles on one charge. The i3 Electric City Vehicle model that BMW is releasing in November 2013 will have a range of 140-150 miles per charge, which is the highest range for EVs to date. BMW will be introducing its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car in 2014.

Toyota, which currently uses lithium-ion batteries in its Prius plug-in hybrid, plans to start selling a fuel-cell sedan by 2015. Toyota has also indicated it wants to introduce a new fuel-cell vehicle that uses the jointly developed technology by 2020. However, BMW stated that a launch date for this jointly developed fuel-cell vehicle has not yet been set.

If The BMW-Toyota alliance is successful, they will be setting new standards for fuel-efficiency in personal transportation vehicles. Their shared platform and technology will make cars lighter, and give EVs a better range and faster charging times. The alliance will also set new standards for the exterior design, driving performance, and personal comfort experience of all EVs produced in the future.

Lesile Kahn is a freelance automobile blogger. She is eager to see how some of the developments from this Toyota-BMW parternship trickles down to RVs and Used Fifth Wheel Trailers.

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