Toyota has been riding solo in the development game, with the company’s strength in numbers allowing it to keep everything in the family, so to speak. However, the landscape has changed and competition is high, making efficiency more important than ever.

Toyota has said that it will now design its powertrain tech to be accepted by rival machines, with the aim of selling complete powertrain modules to competitors to recoup R&D costs, increase sales and ultimately grow the green car segment. This coincides with the company’s announcement that it is expanding its hybrid technology development over the next five years to cope with stricter emissions standards around the world.

“The core technology of plug-in hybrids and electric and fuel-cell vehicles is based on hybrid technology. By increasing our hybrid team, we can leverage new developments for use in electric powertrains,” said Toshiyuki Mizushima, president of Toyota’s powertrain division.

Last month, Toyota announced that it will establish an in-house venture company responsible for fast-tracking the development of EVs, a previously ignored green car subset.

Automotive News Europe points out that the prospect of giving rivals access to “one-size-fits-all” powertrains comes as cars are increasingly dependent on computerised components, making it easier to design similar parts across model ranges. Before, firms were competing largely on mechanical engineering. The report uses the term ‘glorified computers’ for cars, which after standardising many mechanical parts, now compete more on style and packaging.

This is something alien to the world’s biggest carmaker, which has a tight-knit network of suppliers keeping much of their jointly developed tech exclusive to have an engineering competitive edge on rivals. This is what Toyota is trying to change.

“Toyota suppliers produce a lot of technology which can only be used by Toyota. 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,” said Mizushima, pointing to Toyota’s hybrid system as an example.

The report notes that while powertrains combine parts that are made separately by several independent parts makers, 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.

“Until now, we couldn’t sell the same inverter used in Toyota’s previous hybrid system to other customers because it wouldn’t fit the motor, or the voltage was different. We can avoid this issue if suppliers can sell the entire system,” said Yoshifumi Kato, executive director of engineering R&D at Denso, Toyota’s biggest supplier.

Under this new direction, vendors such as Aisin and Denso would have a bigger customer base, allowing them to be more competitive against European rivals such as Bosch and Continental. Currently, around half the annual sales at Denso and Aisin is from Toyota.

“If we take a component developed with Toyota and sell a million to Toyota and another million to other customers, it would double our return on our development costs,” Kato added.

Toyota will also reap that benefit. ANE notes that Toyota’s R&D spend last year was 73% more than in 2010 at around US$9 billion, while spending at rival Volkswagen Group more than doubled over the same period. Toyota and its suppliers expect the new production platform and sales to external parties to recoup back some R&D costs. It’s a win-win for off-the-shelf buyers of the tech too, as they save on their own development and procurement costs.

“It could be a win-win for Toyota and its rivals because Toyota could develop another sales line, while customers could gain access to components which may be cheaper and of higher quality than the same parts developed in-house,” said Takeshi Miyao, Asia MD at Carnorama.

A good current example of this approach is Toyota’s relationship with Mazda. Hiroshima is a customer of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, but fuses HSD with its own Skyactiv engine. The companies are also working together on connected vehicles and EV tech.