Toyota and Mazda may collaborate on fuel cell technology and fuel efficient engines, according to unnamed sources that spoke to Reuters. As car makers struggle to find the powertrains of the future, there is a lot of duplication of effort, and some companies think it would be more efficient and less expensive to work together rather than for each company to blaze its own path.
Mazda has reportedly been working on fuel cell technology by itself, but Toyota is much further along on fuel cells, with the Mirai, its first fuel cell car, already in production. Meanwhile, Mazda has made significant strides in creating its line of SkyActive engines — some of the most energy efficient gasoline and diesel engines on the planet. Why not just trade technology and save each other a lot of time and expense?
Apparently, that’s exactly what the two companies have in mind, although neither is offering many details about their collaboration. The two companies already have a technology and production partnership. Mazda supplies Toyota’s Scion subsidiary with the Mazda2 subcompact sedan, which is marketed as the Scion iA in North America. In return, Mazda could get help on projects like its oft-discussed hydrogen-powered range extender for a plug-in hybrid.
Toyota is placing a huge bet on hydrogen fuel cell technology, which it believe offers the most promising zero emission alternative to conventional cars since both have a similar driving range and refueling time. It has said it is willing to share some of its fuel cell patents with other companies for free as a way of speeding up the development of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure, but has had few takers so far.
Many industry observers believe Toyota is backing the wrong horse. Battery development around the globe is proceeding at a furious pace. The price of batteries is dropping and charging times are being reduced. When drivers can recharge their EVs in 10 minutes instead of 30, the primary advantage of fuel cell cars will evaporate. But the internal combustion engine will be with us for quite a while yet, largely because companies like Mazda continue to find ways to make it more fuel efficient with fewer emissions.
In the end, Toyota may be getting the best of the deal with Mazda.