Japan automakers team up in engine research

TOKYO Mon May 19, 2014 9:11am EDT

TOKYO May 19 (Reuters) - Japanese car makers including Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co are collaborating to develop new technologies for internal combustion engines, aiming to better compete against European rivals, the companies said on Monday.

The eight manufacturers who also include Nissan Motor Co are investing a total of about 500 million yen ($4.9 million), in addition to receiving a 500 million yen government subsidy, to set up an internal combustion engine research association, they said.

The combined 1 billion yen will fund the group, which also includes universities, for the year to March 2015.

Echoing pooled research and business initiatives by other Japanese companies in areas such as in semiconductors and flat-panel displays, the car makers are teaming up to conduct basic research to cut costs as they find themselves spread too thinly over a wide range of technologies, said Keiji Ohtsu at Honda's research and development (R&D) division.

"With gas-electric hybrid cars and fuel-cell vehicles being introduced, the range of technologies that car makers must develop are expanding, even though the number of researchers are not," Ohtsu, appointed head of the Research Association of Automotive Internal Combustion Engines (AICE), told reporters.

The car makers have learned from Europe's R&D methods, in which companies work closely with one another and with universities to save resources and costs - helping give birth to popular technologies such as clean diesel, he said.

In France for example Renault and Peugeot are working together with start-ups and universities on early-stage projects in areas such as autonomous driving, engine downsizing and alternative fuels, while in Germany a research network consisting of car makers, engine and turbine manufactures and auto parts suppliers conducts joint research.

"In terms of technologies, we don't think we are losing against them. But in terms of the efficiency of how development is being done, we are lagging behind," Ohtsu said at a news conference.

AICE will focus on studying exhaust gas treatment from diesel engines, with a focus on catalysts that help cut toxic nitrogen oxides emissions and how to reduce soot, he said.

It is also aiming to boost the thermal efficiency of internal combustion engines - or how well they convert the burning of fuel into motive power - to 50 percent, he said, against a current rate of around 39 percent for gasoline engines and a little over 40 percent for diesel.

The automakers will use the findings from the research to separately develop their own products over coming years. ($1 = 101.4600 Japanese Yen) (Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Editing by David Holmes)