Toyota of Japan has decided to share its patents on hybrid vehicle technologies with competitors. While global automakers are pulling out all the stops to develop electric vehicles (EVs) in order to preempt the future automobile market, Toyota has made a surprising move.
So far, Toyota has been engaged in both the electric and hydrogen car sectors in the future car business. While practically zeroing in on hybrids, the Japanese carmaker laid the foundation for jumping into electric cars at any time. At the same time, it has secured hydrogen car technologies by launching the hydrogen model Mirai.
According to foreign news outlets and industry watchers on April 3, Shigeki Terashi, executive vice president of Toyota, said that the automaker would let other automakers use Toyota’s 23,740 hybrid car patents for free. The technologies that Toyota will make free to use are for motors, power converters and system control devices among others used in hybrid cars. The automaker will offer the technologies free of charge by the end of 2030. These components can also be used in plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) and electric vehicles.
Automobile market experts say that Toyota made the decision not to lose a territorial war in the future car industry. Toyota's patent liberalization has come as a shock, as global automakers must choose whether the future cars that will replace conventional internal combustion engine vehicles will be electric cars or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Toyota has judged that hybrid cars have a better future than electric cars in the next 10 years. This is evidenced by the fact that Toyota has decided to provide its hybrid technologies for free by the end of 2030.
The Korean Society of Automotive Engineers also predicted that the domestic market share of cars with internal combustion engines including hybrid models would reach 80 percent in 2030 and cars with internal combustion engines would coexist with electric cars and hydrogen cars. "Just as Tesla made their electric car patents free to use, Toyota’s decision can be interpreted as a move to try to take the hegemony of the market by making their hybrid patents free," said professor Min Kyung-duk of Department of Mechanical Engineering at Seoul National University. “If automakers share parts, there will be a rise in the number of cars loaded with Toyota’s technology and a drop in production cost," Min said. "Hybrid cars are practical solutions to the automobile fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations that are constantly being toughened," said Park Hyung-il, a professor at the Seoul National University of Science and Technology,
There are still various opinions about whether electric cars will take the lead in the future car market or hydrogen cars after hybrid cars. Many auto industry analysts say that hybrids and electric vehicles will become the mainstream of eco-friendly cars first and then, hydrogen vehicles will succeed them.
At present, global carmakers which have lost the initiative in hybrids to Toyota are preemptively responding to the electric car market with no other choices. Volkswagen, the world's largest car maker, has set a goal of launching a total of 80 electric models by 2025 and filling one-quarter of its global sales with electric car sales. General Motors Corp. (GM) has also decided to pour about US$6 billion into the electric car sector. A disadvantage of electric cars, however, is that their structures are simple so the electric car industry has a relatively low entry barrier. A typical example is Tesla which has not been a major automaker but has emerged as a global electric car giant. Leading global automakers are spending enormous amounts of money on electric cars in order to take better positions in the electric car market where competition will be fierce in the future.
A few automakers are highly likely to monopolize the hydrogen car market in the future because hydrogen cars have a higher technological barrier compared to electric cars.
Another advantage of hydrogen cars is that they feature long mileage and short charging time and their production requires no change in workers and parts suppliers. Hyundai and Toyota and Honda are a few automakers producing hydrogen cars globally. Hyundai plans to invest about 8 trillion won in the hydrogen vehicle field where the automaker has secured technological advantages by 2030. However, in order for hydrogen cars to take over the leadership from electric cars, price cuts and the expansion of charging stations are essential. Sources in the automobile industry say that the unit price of hydrogen cars which was 72 million won last year, is expected to fall to 35 million won, the level of hybrid cars in 2030. "The electric car market is not something that Hyundai Motor can give up although Hyundai Motor has strengths in the field of hydrogen cars," a Hyundai Motor official said..
Meanwhile, Toyota's decision to make its patents free to use also aimed to preempt the automotive platform market by supplying hybrid cars and electric vehicles to vehicle-sharing companies such as Uber, said sources in the automobile industry. As the concept of automobiles has been changing from "ownership" to "sharing", it has become more likely that vehicle-sharing companies, not automakers, will take the lead in the future automobile market. They say that Toyota intends to ramp up its influence over the future car market by supplying a large number of hybrids to platform companies such as Uber as its patent opening will ignite a rise in hybrid production, which will finally prune hybrid prices.