According to Jim Lentz, Toyota North America CEO, the Japanese carmakers’ plans for autonomous vehicles fall more into the realm of helping drivers improve their skills rather than allowing drivers to sit back while the vehicle does the work.
Toyota’s driverless car technology has an advanced cruise-control system that uses wireless communication with nearby vehicles to determine a safe distance to follow. The company also uses a lane-monitoring technology that allows the steering wheel to keep to its highway lane. The company recently began testing the technology.
“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,” Lentz, the first American to head Toyota’s vast operations in the NAFTA region, told the Associated Press. “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 on improving technology in cars and trucks is resulting in a two-track approach to using it. The first is the aforementioned efforts related to safety, such as adaptive cruise control, the second is for driver convenience, such as infotainment.
“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 hovered in the 16% to 17% range for most of the previous decade. Then the economy went into recession, a tsunami hit Japan in 2009 and a series of quality issues resulting in several recalls pushed that number down to 12.8%.
Since then, the company has clawed back to 14.4% in spite of those issues as well as increased competition in the maker’s strongest segment: midsize cars. Toyota boasts the best selling car in the U.S.: the Camry. However, U.S. and Korean automakers have produced a spate of compelling vehicles in that range that are making it tough for Toyota to keep that No. 1 title.
“Toyota’s U.S. manufacturing operations continue to grow as a key supplier of cars and trucks for global markets, which is only possible thanks to the dedication and high-quality work of our team members here,” said Lentz, earlier this year, “the export of U.S.-built Corolla sedans to Latin America and the Caribbean will help to further solidify our U.S. manufacturing base.”
Lentz, who has been with Toyota since 1982, has overseen the growth of Toyota’s North American operations, including a recent push to export Toyota vehicles from North America. The company plans to export the 2014 Corolla to 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean starting next year.
) - Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - filed under Industry
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Discuss: Executive lays out Toyota’s U.S. future plans