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Toyota's Electric Push Spurs Yamaha’s Rush to Develop Hybrid Engines

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  • New Yamaha CEO fears losing business in shift to electric cars
  • Yamaha has supplied combustion engines to Toyota since 1967

Yamaha Motor Co. is rushing to develop engines for hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles as key customer and shareholder Toyota Motor Corp. accelerates a push into electrified powertrains.

Yamaha needs to be able to provide those engines more quickly, at a lower cost, and to a higher level of quality than Toyota can do in-house if it’s going to remain as a supplier, Yoshihiro Hidaka, Yamaha’s new chief executive officer, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Iwata, central Japan. Yamaha has supplied high-performance internal-combustion engines for Toyota since 1967’s iconic 2000GT sports coupe.

Yoshihiro Hidaka

Source: Yamaha Motor Co.

“I have a sense of crisis that if we don’t gain the capacity to properly develop those types of engines, Toyota won’t call on us anymore,” said Hidaka, 54, who took over at the start of the year. “We need to change. We need to add new skills.”

A failure to adapt to the industry’s shift would risk demoting Yamaha to an even narrower position in cars. Toyota said in December that it aims to sell 5.5 million electrified vehicles annually by 2030 -- equivalent to half of total projected sales -- with 4.5 million of those being hybrids or plug-in hybrids.

Electric Two-Wheelers

Hidaka said the know-how that Yamaha acquires from working with Toyota can be used in its own electrification shift. Yamaha already produces the E-Vino scooter, which has an electric motor equivalent to a 50cc engine, and plans to make electric motorbikes equivalent to 150cc models, Hidaka said. It’s been collaborating with Honda Motor Co. in electrifying two-wheelers for a decade.

One hard choice facing Hidaka, who is crafting both a mid-term plan to 2021 and a long-term vision to 2030, is whether to follow the battery-swapping model pioneered by Taiwanese startup Gogoro Inc. and adopted by Honda, or to bank on the solid-state batteries Toyota aims to commercialize by the early 2020s.

“If quick charging with solid-state batteries becomes reality, there’s no need to swap,” he said. “It suddenly becomes a completely different business model.”

Other highlights from the Hidaka interview:

  • Yamaha is open to collaboration on ride sharing if there are merits to both parties, but talks with companies including Uber, Grab and Go-Jek stalled because goals didn’t overlap
  • Yamaha already has the technology for connected two-wheelers; the bottlenecks to adoption are regulation and the high cost of the equipment
  • Yamaha will make a decision this year on whether to begin production of a car, after completing tests; need to consider its merits as a technology and a business
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