By Dave Thomas
If there was any doubt that new fuel regulations would make an immediate and widespread impact on the automotive industry, it evaporated this morning. Today, Ford and Toyota announced an agreement to jointly develop — as equal partners — a new hybrid drivetrain specifically for light trucks and SUVs. This new technology would go on sale by the end of the decade.
The types of rear-wheel-drive vehicles this will be applied to include some of the most popular vehicles in the country, big pickups like Ford’s F-150 and the Toyota Tundra, along with large body-on-frame SUVs like the Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition. Ford and Toyota currently have just a handful of these types of vehicles in their portfolios, but the F-150 accounts for such a huge portion of sales that it alone would warrant this type of development.
New fuel regulations agreed to earlier this year targeted trucks and SUVs as well as passenger cars, hence the need for automakers to make them more efficient. The struggle for the manufacturer is to make them get better mileage while still being able to carry and tow at least as capably as they do today. Current hybrid systems on the market can deliver results in terms of capability; they just haven’t been efficient enough to meet future demands from the government on fuel economy.
Ford and Toyota have worked on hybrid technology before, but most of the development on the hybrid systems was left to Toyota. This time, both parties stress it will be a joint affair with only the integration of the system into each other’s products left to the individual automakers.
While the hybrid agreement is the most notable news, the two companies also agreed to work together to advance their in-car technologies, like Ford’s Sync, so that not only are they more sophisticated but that some sort of standards and practices result so customers moving between brands will get similar experiences.