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Ford, Toyota Team Up On Telematics: What's It Mean For You?

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Automotive heavyweights Ford and Toyota joined forces yesterday to make a very interesting announcement. Toyota's executive vice president for research and development, Takeshi Uchiyamada, appeared with Ford's group vice president for global product development, Derrick Kuzak, to say that the automakers are working together on two important projects: a new hybrid system for rear-wheel-drive vehicles, and the establishment of future telematics standards.

Dull? Maybe on the surface. But behind all the photo ops and canned speeches, there's a lot to get excited about -- particularly for fans of green vehicles and in-car tech.

Our colleagues at Green Car Reports have already done a very thorough job of explaining the details and implications of the hybrid tech system. (In a nutshell, it's targeted at "rear-wheel-drive light trucks and sport utility vehicles", which probably means the Ford F-150 and lighter models.) This could be a real game-changer for Ford and Toyota as the two companies roll out plans for future hybrid vehicles -- vehicles priced to compete with their combustion-engine siblings, thanks to economies of scale on the production line.

But while Ford and Toyota went into significant detail about their plans for powertrains, they were much cagier about the telematics side of things. Perhaps that's because the agreement doesn't deal with feature sets or anything directly tied to users. (Translation: don't expect SYNC in your Prius.) Instead, teams of engineers from Ford and Toyota will determine which telematics standards are most feasible, robust, and affordable for future models.

Despite the dearth of details, this is a major development for tech fans. It goes without saying that Ford and Toyota carry a lot of weight in the auto industry. The technology that they use stands a good chance of becoming the dominant technology in the marketplace. For example, if Ford and Toyota decide that Bluetooth is lame (finally) and select another technology protocol, that will have an impact not only on the way we interact with our cars, but also on the way that smartphones, MP3 players, and other devices are built. 

As an aside: this shouldn't conflict with Toyota's participation in the Car Connectivity Consortium, which is also focused on setting standards for telematics and infotainment systems. The Ford/Toyota pairing is focused on backend issued, while the CCC is concerned with standards of user interaction -- for example, what's safe for drivers to do and what's not.

Our take?

The mere fact that Ford and Toyota are working together says volumes about the way those companies operate. Building products in a vacuum is never wise (just ask HP); by starting a conversation, Ford and Toyota can benefit from each other's knowledge and ensure that their technologies have an edge in the marketplace. That's not to say that all partnerships fare well (adieu, NUMMI), but we can't help admiring big dogs that play well together.

For a little more info, here's a clip of Ford's Derrick Kuzak talking about the memorandum of understanding he signed with Uchiyamada during yesterday's event in Dearborn, Michigan.

[Ford]

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