Industrial innovation appears to be

Toyota's future

 

BY DAVID SCOTT COKER

Special to the Courier

Thursday, April 16, 1998

 

With the recent good news that Toyota will nearly double the proposed workforce to some 2,200 workers prior to the first vehicle rolling off the assembly line, the company seems to be rolling up its sleeves to take on all comers in an effort to become the largest motor vehicle company in the world. 

 

Focusing upon technological innovation to pave the way for future prosperity, company officials in Japan and the United States seem to believe that reducing auto air emissions may be just as important to prosperity as the bottom line. 

 

A few months back, the ink upon the Kyoto global warming agreement was not yet dry before the company announced that it would be accelerating efforts to reduce harmful engine emissions from the motor fleet it produces for Japanese consumption.

 

According to articles in the Japanese news agency Nihon Keizai Shimbun and the Reuters News Service, Toyota officials state that all new vehicles produced for Japanese consumption this year will be outfitted with the company's independently developed emissions reduction system.

 

The new engine -- tagged the D-4 direct injection system -- is a gasoline engine format which substantially reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.

 

The Japanese News Agency explains that the new emission system system reduces nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide emissions by adjusting the operation of the car's catalytic converter. 

 

The adjustments are based upon monitoring the oxygen content available for combustion inside the engine and then checking fuel status which sensors placed both in front of and behind the exhaust catalyst.  The data is then sent to a computer which adjusts the timing of the fuel injection system to achieve the highest possible combustion efficiency.

 

Similar systems are also being produced in Japan for some vehicles sold by Nissan and Mitsubishi but are not yet on the market. 

 

A Toyota spokesman told Reuters that the decision will result in a significant boost in the company's output of such power units for 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles per month. 

 

During the last calendar year, only about 1,800 of the vehicles were sold in the Japanese market.  This news came in the wake of the enormous international attention given to Toyota's October announcement of the Prius, a combination gasoline/electric car in Japan which the company plans to bring to the United States in limited numbers within the next six months.

 

The company is also apparently toying with hydrogen power fuel cells  -- "far future" technology, according to Toyota engineers -- for release about 10 years from now.

 

When precisely the company will begin to market the D-4 powered vehicles in the United States is anybody's guess, but political pressure on all U.S. automakers to reduce exhaust emissions is apparently achieving results.

 

Both Ford and General Motors are trying to persuade Northeastern states not to adopt zero-emissions vehicle standards as have been established in California. 

 

They are also quite concerned about pending Senate ratification of the Kyoto global warming agreement, which would also mean stricter fuel-efficiency standards for all U.S. automakers. 

 

While all of these developments are interesting, the U.S. buying public is sending the auto industry decidedly different signals. 

 

Recently, the Associated Press reported that Americans are buying sport-utility vehicles and light-duty trucks and are neglecting small, more energy efficient automobiles

 

The report stated that sales of General Motor's Saturn cars were down 10 per cent last year and that the Chevrolet Prizm and Metro models were down 23 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively,  for the year.

 

The news service quotes G., Richard Wagoner, Jr., president of GM's North American operations as saying the economy segment of the market "has been basically wiped out." 

 

At the same time, Wards's auto reports said that sales of sport-utility vehicles were up 6 per cent during the last year and that small and medium-priced cars were down 5 per cent across the board.

 

Whatever transpires, with the Kyoto agreement, Toyota, as a corporate entity, seems to be raising the bar as far as improving fleet emissions standards and other technological innovations.  The company's outstanding sales performance provides the company with working capital to develop new

technologies.  It is clear from the recent announcements that, regardless of current market trends,  when U.S. auto consumers are ready for advanced- technology vehicles, Toyota plans to be there with the new products to meet the demand. 

 

 David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.