By The Associated Press
DETROIT – Ford and Toyota will work together on a hybrid system for pickup trucks and SUVs.
The two automakers announced Monday the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the partnership. A final agreement is expected sometime in 2012. The agreement began with a chance airport encounter between their two CEOs, Alan Mulally and Akio Toyoda.
In addition, they will cooperate on developing industrywide standards on in-vehicle communication systems that enable drivers to make phone calls, track emails and post to social networks from their vehicles.
The potential benefit from the partnership would be to make fuel-saving hybrid technology available in light trucks, which still account for more than half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. Ford and Toyota would be able to bring the technology to market at a lower cost than if they each developed it separately. Consumers who buy pickup trucks or SUVs would save money on gas.
“The importance here is reducing the cost of ownership for truck customers … without compromising the ability to deliver the towing capacity and horsepower they have come to expect in our trucks,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s vice president of global product development.
Toyota has been the industry leader in selling 3.3 million hybrid vehicles worldwide, led by its Prius sedan that was introduced in 1997. Ford has hybrid versions of its Escape SUV, which is based on a front-wheel drive structure, its Fusion and Lincoln MKZ midsize sedans. Next year, Ford will launch hybrid and plug-in electric versions in the U.S. of its C-Max European van.
The work the two companies plan on in-vehicle technology will be focused on making such systems safer to use. Concerns over driver distraction and customer confusion over certain touch-screen or voice-activated features have risen in the last year with Ford’s introduction of its MyFord and MyLincoln Touch features on the Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Ford Explorer.
Toyota is launching its own multimedia system called Entune in select 2012 models later this year.
“The real focus on the telematics collaboration will center around Wi-Fi circuitry and protocols for connectivity for all phones,” Kuzak said. “The way customers interact with our systems will remain uniquely Toyota and Ford.”