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Japanese electronics firms eye expansion into self-driving and EV technologies

by Takuya Okamoto

Kyodo

Electronics firms and other nonautomotive companies are eager to expand their businesses in the auto sector, where innovations are seen as essential amid the growing need for autonomous and electric vehicles.

At the Tokyo Motor Show, open to the public from Friday to Nov. 4, many electronics firms, including Hitachi Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and Panasonic Corp., are showcasing their products and services.

Such companies are trying to take advantage of their experience and knowledge to manufacture motors, inverters and sensors that will become indispensable to assemble autonomous and electric cars.

More than 50 percent of vehicles will be fully or partly powered by electricity by 2040, according to an estimate by the International Energy Agency.

Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd., an automotive unit of Hitachi group, produces motors and inverters for electric vehicles as well as electronic control units for advanced driving assistance systems.

The company said it aims to expand its annual sales related to automotive products to between ¥1.2 trillion and ¥1.7 trillion by fiscal 2021 from ¥971 billion in fiscal 2018. It will begin a new joint venture with Honda Motor Co. next year to mass-produce motors for EVs in China.

Hitachi is also boosting research and development on autonomous driving technologies as another business pillar.

“In addition to making good products, we can also utilize resources of our Hitachi group such as high-quality infrastructure and safety technologies,” Kimiya Yamaashi, chief technology officer of the company, said Thursday at a media briefing.

Home appliance maker Mitsubishi Electric is displaying its Emirai S concept car at the motor show. The vehicle features a driver monitoring system designed to prevent fatal accidents due to a driver’s sudden sickness.

A thermal sensor and an infrared camera installed near the wheel follow changes in the driver’s eye motion, body surface temperature and heart rate resulting from fatigue, drowsiness or sickness. The vehicle automatically stops if the driver does not respond to an alarm.

“We would like to promote safe driving by taking advantage of our cutting-edge technologies for artificial intelligence, sensing and infrastructure,” Hiroshi Onishi, executive officer of the company in charge of automotive equipment, told reporters.

The firm aims to commercially introduce the driver monitoring system by 2022.

Panasonic has developed its original driverless parking technology through a deep learning method without using costly sensors, enabling the vehicle to park with a 20-centimeter clearance to other cars with a remote control system on a smartphone.

The Osaka-based company offered the autonomous parking technology for Toyota Motor Corp.’s LQ concept car displayed at the motor show. Panasonic also provided an augmented reality heads-up display that projects route guidance and traffic information to the driver through the windshield.

“Electronics makers are becoming equal partners to auto manufacturers in next-generation mobility services and technologies,” said Hitoshi Kaise of consulting firm Roland Berger.

“While vertical relationships between auto makers and suppliers still remain in terms of building older generation cars, automakers have to flexibly team up with suppliers to provide new value to customers,” Kaise added.

Auto parts makers are also speeding up business restructuring to catch up with the ongoing electrification and automation of vehicles, because such cars need fewer components as they do not have combustion engines and transmissions made of many metal parts that the companies supply.

Denso Corp., a group company of Toyota, set up a joint venture with another Toyota group firm, Aishin Seiki Co., in April to develop and sell parts for EVs.

“The Denso group will invest ¥180 billion during the three-year period from fiscal 2019 to further strengthen our electrification expertise,” President Koji Arima told a news conference on Thursday.

With regard to autonomous driving, Denso established another joint venture with three other Toyota group companies “to accelerate the development of integrated vehicle control software and achieve highly reliable automated driving,” Arima said.

Robert Bosch GmbH is also rushing to chase the automotive transformation. The German supplier announced at a press briefing on Thursday that it has set a sales target of €5 billion ($5.5 billion) for its electric mobility business in 2025, up from €1 billion expected in 2020.

The company also said it will boost investment in developing technologies to detect a vehicle’s precise location necessary for automated driving as well as batteries for motorbikes and fuel-cell vehicles.

“We are turning into a society where individuals can personalize the choice of transportation method to meet their needs. Bosch is also moving with mobility solutions,” said Stefan Hartung, chairman of its mobility solutions business section.

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