Executive lays out Toyota’s U.S. future plans image

According to Jim Lentz, Toyota North America CEO, the Japanese carmakers’ plans for autonomous vehicles don’t include a car that lets you sit back and enjoy the ride, choosing to opt in for more driver assistance systems instead.

Toyota’s prospective self-driving tech relies on an advanced cruise-control system that utilizes wireless communication with nearby vehicles to determine a safe distance to follow. The company also makes use of lane-monitoring technology that allows the steering wheel to steer back the car into its lane. The technology, which doesn’t look far fetched into the future, has already started real world trials.

“We view autonomous cars a little differently than some others. We really see it as a co-pilot type car, not as a self-driving car,” said Lentz, the first American to be named chief of Toyota’s business in the NAFTA region. “A car that can really enhance the reflexes and the ability of a driver to continue to drive. That’s why I’m excited about those cars. As we look at boomers and they start to retire, the ability to have cars that can enhance their capabilities, it’s going to allow them to drive much longer.”

The focus is on making the existing technology in cars and trucks better. The automaker directs its efforts in two directions – safety, like the adaptive cruise control, with the second being driver related convenience.

“The technology we put in cars has to be very, very intuitive so that it’s simple to use for elder generations but enough techno for younger generations,” Lentz said. “But younger generations, I don’t think they’re necessarily amazed with technology. It’s a tool to them.”

The company’s U.S. market share was around 16% to 17% for most of the previous decade. Since then the US went into recession, a tsunami hit Japan in 2009 and a series of publicly scrutinized quality problems that led to huge recalls dipped the number to 12.8%. Toyota managed to get back to 14.4% really fast, while also facing the increased competition in the maker’s traditional segment: midsize cars.