What does Toyota’s powertrain-sharing announcement mean for the future of brand identity? [Op/Ed]

2016 Toyota Prius Hybrid System

Toyota recently announced that it is opening up its powertrain technology to other companies, but what does this mean for the future of brand identities?

The announcement, which was reported by Automotive News last week, is huge news. It would be like if Apple decided that other phone manufacturers could use the iOS operating system for their smartphones.

Like Apple’s operating systems, Toyota’s engine technology has always been kept very closely guarded within the company, including with the part suppliers that build a lot of the components, according to the report. Specifically, the technology that will become more open is the powertrain in the Prius.

Having driven a few Priuses over the last few years, I can say that the way the hybrid powertrain seamlessly transitions from electric to gas and from power to regeneration is a serious feat of modern automotive engineering. So far, no other company has been able to come close to what Toyota has done with their hybrid system.


In the report, Toshiyuki Mizushima, Toyota’s president of powertrain technology who came from parts supplier Aisin Seiki, said that by allowing other companies to use Toyota’s engine technology, they can not only reduce research and development costs, they can also sell complete systems to other companies, which would lower those companies’ costs as well.

While this all makes sense from a financial perspective, it makes less sense from the perspective of brand identities. People buy Priuses for their unique hybrid powertrains. Having that same powertrain available in, say, a Mazda, would diminish the Prius brand for those who know what’s under the hood.

Maybe that’s the real issue here. Most consumers don’t really know what’s under the hood of their cars, or even who makes them. I still encounter people who don’t know that Lexuses are actually made by Toyota, and that some of them share parts with ordinary Camrys and RAV4s.

Infiniti QX30

There are many examples of companies collaborating with either powertrain sharing, joint development or, in some cases, reselling complete cars. Toyota is already tied up with Subaru for jointly developing the 86/BRZ sports car, and they are outsourcing the Yaris iA to Mazda, who just making them a Mazda2 sedan with a different nose. Then there is the Mercedes-Benz/Nissan tie up, where the GLA and the Infiniti QX30 are jointly developed, and the same 2.0-liter Mercedes engine is also under the hood of the Q50.

Still, the automotive enthusiast will lament the days when Nissans were Nissans, Benzes were Benzes and each manufacturer had their own signature engines with their own character. Technology is rapidly changing the automotive landscape, and this is one more step towards homogenous cars and somewhat meaningless brand names.

But just because it’s happening, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

What do you think? Start the conversation in the comments below.

And check out this related TFLcar video of the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime: