Toyota Forms Self-Driving Venture Planning Automated Lexus by 2020

Four Toyota Group companies reportedly have formed a joint venture to develop self-driving technology with an eye toward introducing autonomous features in 2020 Lexus models.

Component-supplier Denso will own a majority of the venture, which will also include Toyota Group parts-makers Aisin Seiki, Jtekt and Advics, Japanese business-news outlet Nikkei has reported. The new unnamed company, which won’t be operating until at least the end of this year, will look to supply other automakers in addition to Toyota.

Toyota has multiple autonomous vehicle initiatives under way already. Its efforts are expected to go commercial as early as 2020, beginning with Lexus vehicles that can change lanes on a highway without human intervention, the outlet reported. By the middle of the decade, that system is expected to reach Level 4 autonomy, which means full self-driving capability in limited areas.

Components-suppliers play a key role in automotive innovations. They are aggressively developing AV technologies, both on their own and in partnership with automakers, also known as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Denso and other Toyota Group companies don’t just make parts for Toyota and Lexus vehicles but also compete against independent giants like Bosch and Continental. Those two companies, both based in Germany, recently formed a joint venture that includes Volkswagen, Nvidia and silicon vendor Aquantia.

The emerging Toyota venture will work on systems that allow artificial intelligence to control steering, acceleration and braking, Nikkei reported. Advics, which itself is a subsidiary of Aisin, specializes in building braking systems. The planned joint venture could be the piece that ties together multiple AV projects around the Toyota Group. It has been working on robotics and AI technology in Silicon Valley since 2015, when it formed the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and hired key engineers from Google and the US Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, an AV pioneer. Earlier this year, Toyota Group invested $2.8 billion to form TRI-AD (advanced development), a Tokyo-based venture that focuses on software development, including contributions from Denso and Aisin.

The new venture will incorporate these developments into automotive hardware, and create integrated packages of self-driving systems, Nikkei reported. To test AV systems in the US, TRI is building its own closed-course facility in Michigan, due for completion in October. The test center, located at Michigan Technical Resource Park, south of Detroit, will simulate settings like congested urban environments and a four-lane divided highway.

Toyota has introduced advanced driver assistance features across most of its product line, including on the recently introduced Corolla Hatchback and the Rav4 crossover, its volume leader in the US. The company already offers a wide range of advanced safety features on the top-end Lexus LS car, including collision avoidance, radar-based pedestrian and cross-traffic alerts and the ability to read some road signs. Autonomous lane changes are a next step in self-driving that most automakers, including Toyota, haven’t yet taken but Tesla has said it would include “onramp to offramp” self-driving, including automatic attempted lane changes, in its Autopilot Version 9 software starting this month.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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