Toyota, Honda, Nissan eye teaming up for software development

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Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. are considering working together on the development of in-car software, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

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

At a time when U.S. and Chinese automakers are striding ahead in digitization technologies for electric vehicles, the three Japanese vehicle manufacturers aim to adopt a cooperative approach to combat the challenges posed by their rivals.

The Economy, Trade, and Industry Ministry and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Ministry will reflect the plan in a digital strategy for automobiles that will be compiled this month.

Specific measures will be discussed from 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.

Standardizing basic platform

Software controls many basic functions of modern vehicles, including the steering and brakes. Software plays a pivotal role in vehicle performance, so superiority in this field directly affects the competitiveness of each automaker.

The three automakers are expected to consider standardizing the basic platform for an application programming interface (API), which serves as the link between the software and other systems. They believe that doing so would enable them to overcome obstacles in enabling the installation of parts such as batteries and sensors.

Thereare also expectations that this will lower barriers to entering the industry and encourage the development of various services by external companies, similar to the way smartphone apps have evolved. Alignment will become easier between services such as voice recognition, maps, and autonomous driving.

However, discussions on issues including fairness among the automakers about the selection of new specifications will be unavoidable. While each automaker might agree on the overall necessity of this approach, the details of the process of turning it into reality will present many hurdles.

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Design, development concepts

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

U.S. automaker Tesla Inc. updates its vehicle software through the internet, just as is done with smartphones. This allows vehicle features to be enhanced. Additional features can be obtained for a fee, so Tesla has successfully created a way to generate money from vehicles after they have been sold. China has pushed ahead with efforts to standardize an API for the industry since 2021, and it has started equipping vehicles with cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Nurturing human resources capable of developing this software will be a key task for the Japanese automakers. They will identify areas in which cooperation across company lines will be possible and create an environment conducive to allocating employees to cutting-edge fields such as autonomous driving.