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3 Japanese car manufacturers Eye Joint software development; Toyota, Honda, Nissan See the benefits of standardization


Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. are considering a plan to collaborate on automotive software development, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The three major Japanese automakers are continuing a shift from developing this technology independently and expect that standardizing some parts could lead to greater development efficiency.

At a time when American and Chinese automakers are making strides in digitalization technologies for electric vehicles, the three Japanese automakers are pursuing a joint approach to combat the challenges posed by their rivals.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism will reflect the plan in a digital strategy for cars to be drawn up this month. Specific measures will be discussed starting this summer and beyond, with the automakers aiming to begin their software partnership from fiscal 2025 or later. The initiative could be expanded to other domestic automakers, including Suzuki Motor Corp., Mazda Motor Corp., Subaru Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Software controls many basic functions of modern vehicles, including steering and brakes. Software plays a crucial role in vehicle performance, so superiority in this area directly impacts the competitiveness of any automaker.

The three automakers are expected to consider standardizing the basic platform for an application programming interface (API), which serves as a link between the software and other systems. The three automakers believe this will help them overcome obstacles in enabling the installation of components such as batteries and sensors. There are also expectations that this will lower barriers to entry into the sector and encourage the development of various services by third-party companies, similar to the way smartphone apps have evolved. The coordination between services such as speech recognition, maps and autonomous driving also becomes easier.

However, discussions on issues of fairness among car manufacturers when it comes to the selection of new specifications will be inevitable. While every automaker may agree on the general need for this approach, the details of the process of putting it into practice will present many hurdles.

Nevertheless, there is an urgent need to initiate cooperation in light of the vehicle design and development concepts being innovated around the world. Newly emerging automakers in the United States and China are pursuing strategies to increase vehicle value by focusing on software design and development.

The American car manufacturer Tesla Inc. updates its vehicle software via the Internet, just like it does with smartphones. This allows vehicle properties to be improved. Additional features can be obtained for a fee, so Tesla has successfully created a way to generate money from vehicles after they are sold. Since 2021, China has been making efforts to standardize an API for the industry and has started equipping vehicles with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Nurturing the human resources that can develop this software will be a key task for Japanese automakers. They will identify areas where collaboration across company boundaries will be possible and create an environment conducive to assigning employees to advanced areas such as autonomous driving.

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