Motoring Insight Magazine Online

Exclusive: Toyota Europe CEO and President Didier Leroy says accident avoidance technology will be affordable within five to ten years

Published: 2 January 2014

Didier Leroy (left) has transformed Toyota Motor Europe, having signed a Supply Agreement with BMW in 2011.

The President and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe has questioned the feasibility of fully driverless cars but says radar technology that will make it possible on highways is only a few years away.

His comments were made in an exclusive interview with Motortrades Insight. Didier Leroy, who has been at the helm of Toyota’s European operations since 2010, and recently managed to lead the company to its first profits in the region since 2007, said: “New technology and innovation is a big way to improve the competitiveness of our business, but importantly we must understand how to always anticipate the future needs of the customer.”

While the rest of Europe’s car industry has been struggling lately, the UK has seen something of a mini-boom in the number of cars manufactured, exported and sold on home soil. 

Some slightly worrying studies from the Japanese Society of Automotive Engineers show that, compared with an ordinary 30-year-old, a person twice the age will have massively worse sight, especially in low light, marginally less memory recall and far slower reaction times. All of this supports the idea that there is a large market for autonomous vehicles and as Mr Leroy explains, the automotive manufacturers need to create that market and not allow the customers to demand it before the technology is safely developed and available.

“It’s true we need to react quickly to the needs of the customer but the best way is to create the need. How do we anticipate the need and create the need by ourselves? Apple created the need. When they introduced the first iPhone, who needed an iPhone? But after that, now everybody wants to have an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy. It doesn’t matter about the brand but the need to the final customer has been created by this marketing activity. 

“And the future of innovation in the car will be based on safety. There are so many things to consider. I don’t believe that tomorrow we will have a car without any driver. I don’t believe that’s possible.”

For the next ten to 15 years, Mr Leroy is ‘really convinced’ that motorists will be interested in having more advanced technology in their cars that will help them to avoid crashes, have no accidents and if they do have an accident then they do not attain any injuries. Safety will prove to be a top priority, even more so than it already is today. 

But there are still legal issues. “If there is a crash with this system, who has the responsibility? Is it the car maker? Is it the driver? This is still not clear. By 2040, this kind of problem will probably be fixed but today we still have this kind of issue. I believe for the next ten years, I’m absolutely convinced that communications between cars will be one of the big jumps in terms of innovation to make sure that we can avoid crashes and improve a lot of safety – safety for pedestrians and safety for crashes between cars. The car will still stay under the control or responsibility of the driver.”

The Japanese car giant has, like the rest of the motor industry, been working on driverless car technology. But the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology Toyota is developing could eclipse others in the industry and continue to make it the world’s largest car company. 

Toyota is refining technology which sees the steering wheel automatically take over control of the vehicle to avoid a pedestrian or a cyclist while staying in a marked traffic lane, thereby preventing a collision with an oncoming vehicle. If the world’s largest car maker masters this system within the next few years, dubbed as ‘Automated Highway Driving Assist’, then Toyota could become a leader in creating affordable near-autonomous vehicles that can be produced at competitive prices efficiently on a production line. 

The technology consists of two main features: Lane Trace Control and Cooperative-adaptive Cruise Control. Rather than sounding an annoying and distracting alert when drivers stray from their lanes, Lane Trace Control will use dozens of cameras and radar to steer the vehicle, keeping it on the right path and avoiding accidents. Toyota claims the technology adjusts the steering angle, driving torque and braking force constantly to maintain the optimal line within the lane. Of course, this can only be used on motorways and dual-carriageways in the UK.

Cooperative-adaptive Cruise Control does not use cameras or sensors like other similar systems to react when another vehicle in front slows down. This vehicle-to-vehicle communication is something completely different. According to Toyota, it uses ‘700-MHz band vehicle-to-vehicle ITS communications to transmit acceleration and deceleration data of preceding vehicles so that following vehicles can adjust their speeds accordingly to better maintain inter-vehicle distance’. 

“I’m convinced that it will be possible to reduce the number of deaths because this is the main topic of this kind of innovation and technology,” Mr Leroy added. “This is quite expensive technology. It’s not something that is free. It’s much more than just additional electronics on the car. It’s communication between cars. It’s communication between cars and infrastructure. I feel it’s a must for the future because we cannot continue to have more and more crashes. Even if there are fewer deaths than in the past, it’s always too much.”

While reliable driverless vehicle technology is a not so distant reality, more an expensive one, current radar technology is already proving to prevent accidents and save lives. And it is this technology that Mr Leroy believes will be further ‘developed very quickly’ over the next few years.

“Even today, technology is quite efficient and you can avoid 90 per cent of crashes in urban areas with this technology,” he said. “Technology is already quite reliable at some speeds but to have the full reliability of that we need some years more. But the problem is not to just being able to develop the technology. It’s also to make the technology affordable. How do we make the technology affordable for the customer? This is probably where we need three, four or five years more to develop it further. But it will come, sure.”

If Toyota do bring in such technology, until it is made cheaper, it is likely to be used on upper-end Lexus models – at least initially.  

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