Japanese carmakers and transmission companies unite to develop next-generation technologies

In 2013, the top executives of the major car companies in Japan gathered at a forum which was held just before the opening of the Tokyo Motor Show. Each spoke about a different aspect of the country’s auto industry but all of them shared the same desire to see greater unity as a way to continue to maintain a superior position against growing global competition. In the years that followed, there were announcements of joint activities for technological development between two or more companies.

Recently, this spirit of collaboration saw a major development with the establishment of the Transmission Research Association for Mobility Innovation (TRAMI). This association will develop and advance transmission technology which can be shared among the carmakers which consist of all the companies in Japan (with the exception of Mitsuoka).

Two of Japan’s leading transmission manufacturers – Aisin AW and JATCO – will take the lead in the R&D activities with their expertise in the field. JATCO, in particular, has developed advanced technologies for CVTs (Continuously Variable Transmissions) which are favoured for their fuel-saving benefits.

New and more advanced technologies will also be developed for other types of transmissions, as well as reduction gears for the motors in electric vehicles that will be growing in number in coming years. By joining forces, it is expected that R&D efforts can not only be boosted but also speeded up to enable Japanese carmakers to remain competitive in this area of drivetrains.

The unique hybrid transmission used in the Lexus LC500h.

TRAMI will also work in universities in Japan on research projects for next-generation transmissions. However, it is understood that the association will not be developing transmission products commercially. Instead, it will research and develop new technologies which will be shared with all the members.

This is not the first time that the Japanese auto industry is seeing such large-scale collaboration although on the previous occasion when the carmakers got together, it was with guidance from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. At that time, the revised Japan Revitalization Strategy announced in 2014 included an ‘Automobile Industry Strategy’. This strategy saw the carmakers collaborating to develop new technologies for internal combustion engines.

The manufacturers invested a total of about 500 million yen which was matched by government funding to provide 1 billion yen funding for an engine research association. The main objective over a 5-year period was to improve fuel efficiency by 30% by 2020.

[Chips Yap]