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Toyota Charts Cautious Path to Autonomous and Electrified Future

John Gartner
Jan 29, 2019

Smart Car 2

Broad consensus across the auto industry is that the future of transportation will rely on electricity and electronics to keep humans safer and the air cleaner. While some companies are rushing headlong into the future of automated and electric vehicles, Toyota is taking a more deliberate approach to transforming its vehicle fleet. 

Guardian and Chauffeur: Twin Automated Driving Systems

Toyota is focusing more on developing technology platforms instead of urgently pushing for commercialization. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the company announced its latest automated test vehicle, the TRI-P4, which is based on a Lexus LS 500h hybrid. The vehicle is being used to test twin automated driving systems for guidance, named Guardian and Chauffeur. For the first time, Toyota is adding a thermal imaging system to its automated test platform, intended to enhance the vehicle’s ability to discriminate the false positives of life forms. 

According to Gil Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, Guardian is akin to a driving instructor, providing cues to help drivers operate more safely, and turning the wheel or applying the brakes to avoid potential collisions. Pratt says Guardian’s development is influenced by fighter jet guidance systems, which enable the pilot to maneuver within a “blended envelope of control” that prevents the vehicle from turning too quickly and leaving the range of stability. Pratt said Toyota intends on making Guardian available to the industry, but he did not elaborate when questioned on timing of availability or making the software available via open source or other licensing agreements. 

Chauffeur is a complete automation system that can fully operate the vehicle without driver input, and would compete more directly with systems from Ford, Waymo, Cruise Automation, and others. While some companies such as Nissan are intending to launch Level 4 automated systems as soon as 2021, Toyota has not expressed a similar plan, and Pratt said that Level 5 driverless technology is “too challenging” to commercialize anytime soon. Toyota’s AV technology was ranked 12th out of 19 companies in the Navigant Research Leaderboard: Automated Driving Vehicles report. 

Encouraging Consumer Education

To encourage automated vehicle adoption, Toyota announced at CES it is participating in the PAVE (Partners for Automated Vehicle Education) coalition of companies that will educate consumers on the safety of the technology. The group, which includes automakers Audi, GM, Daimler, VW, Waymo, Zook, and more than a dozen other organizations, sees AVs as the key to reducing the nearly 40,000 annual road fatalities in the US. Automated vehicles are largely misunderstood by consumers, and the rare injury accidents reported in the media (as compared to the millions of miles of uneventful trips) have reinforced the perception that they are dangerous. According to a survey conducted by PAVE member organization AAA, 73% of people are afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle. 

Slow and Steady Plans

Toyota, which popularized electrified vehicles with the Prius in 1997, has been relatively quiet on plug-in vehicles of late and did not make any related announcements at CES. The company claims 60% of all electrified vehicles (including hybrids and plug-ins) on the road in the US and intends to have 15% of its branded vehicle sales (including Lexus) in 2020 to be electrified (mostly hybrids). Toyota continues to be one of the few automakers backing fuel cell passenger cars by offering the Mirai sedan. At CES, Toyota also showcased a class 8 heavy duty fuel cell truck developed in partnership with PACCAR and Kenworth. For Toyota’s plan to transition to the automated and electric vehicle future, getting to the finish line first is not the same as winning.