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Honda-Isuzu alliance signals further consolidation in Japan

Our Bureau | Updated on January 16, 2020 Published on January 16, 2020

Duo will conduct joint research on heavy-duty trucks using fuel cells

By all indications, Japan’s auto industry is clearly coming together as part of a consolidation drive. There have been recent instances of Toyota-Suzuki, Toyota-Mazda, Honda-Yamaha and Nissan-Mitsubishi.

The most recent to join this list are Isuzu Motors and Honda R&D Co, a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co, which signed an agreement on Wednesday to undertake joint research on heavy-duty trucks, utilising fuel cells (FC) as the powertrain.

As their joint statement says, there are still some issues that need to be addressed to popularise the use of FC and hydrogen energy, including those related to cost and infrastructure. These need to be tackled not only by individual companies but ‘more expansively through industry-wide initiatives’.

Against this backdrop, Isuzu has been striving to expand its line up of next-generation powertrains for heavy-duty trucks, and Honda to expand application of its FC technologies beyond use for passenger vehicles, which will represent ‘progress toward the realisation of a hydrogen society’.

Sharing the same technological research goals, the two companies reached an agreement to conduct joint research on heavy-duty FC trucks. Taking advantage of the respective strengths amassed over a long period of time, (Isuzu’s in the development of heavy-duty trucks and Honda’s in the development of FC), the duo will strive to establish the foundation for basic technologies such as FC powertrain and vehicle control technologies.

Moreover, through this joint research, Isuzu and Honda will not only realise clean, low-noise, low-vibration heavy-duty trucks ‘customers are waiting for’, but also promote ‘expansive discussions’ by the industry. This is to ensure that the use of FC trucks and hydrogen energy can contribute to the ‘future prosperity of the logistics industry and all other industries ‘in our society and to the early realisation of hydrogen society’.

It will be interesting to see how this partnership pans out in the coming months. Isuzu recently bought out UD Trucks from Volvo with whom it will tie up in new areas like electric mobility. Again, in the truck space, Hino Motors (a Toyota subsidiary) has joined hands with Traton, the commercial vehicle arm of Volkswagen, to work jointly in new mobility segments.

In their statement announcing the partnership, Isuzu and Honda have referred to the growing demand to reduce exhaust gas/carbon emissions from mobility products in order to address the on-going global challenge of reducing humanity’s environmental footprint. ‘Moreover, from the perspective of energy security, the industry is required to take initiatives to promote utilisation of renewable energy,’ the statement adds.

Sustainable energy moves

Under these circumstances, as a commercial vehicle manufacturer committed to support transportation, Isuzu has been ‘striving to promote’ the utilisation of low-carbon and sustainable energy. To that end, it has been researching and developing various powertrains including clean diesel engine, engines for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and electric vehicle (EV) powertrains.

In parallel, Honda has been working towards the ‘realisation of a carbon-free society’ and, to this end, in addition to hybrid and battery electric vehicles, has been researching and developing FCVs, the ‘ultimate environmental technology’ for over three decades. Clearly, in the new era of mobility disruptions, companies are joining hands to pool in competencies and investments since it makes little sense to go solo and face high risks. This explains the coming together of PSA-FCA, Ford-Volkswagen and so on.

In the case of Japan, there has been a noticeable trend of its homegrown companies exchanging vows as part of the effort to stay ahead of the curve. Prior to signing up with Toyota, Suzuki was in a longterm alliance with General Motors and, subsequently, a short-lived marriage with Volkswagen.

Joining hands with Toyota as part of a strategy for India and other emerging markets assures greater compatibility between two Japanese companies which understand each other well. Likewise, former foes like Honda and Yamaha have come together in the two-wheeler space for a niche area like scooters though there is every likelihood of this partnership evolving in the future.

Isuzu and Honda will now join this list of Japanese consolidation which is perhaps an inevitable consequence of protecting the local industry. This is understandable especially with the Chinese going flat out to make a strong statement in the global automotive space though acquisitions.

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Published on January 16, 2020
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