By on January 13, 2016

2015_Toyota_Camry_XLE

Speaking to the Automotive News World Congress on Tuesday, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said the automaker doesn’t plan on making fully autonomous vehicles any time soon.

“We don’t see a day coming soon when you’ll just hop in the back seat, open the newspaper and scan the headlines while the car drives you to work,” Lentz said. “Instead our focus is on building cars that can actually enhance a driver’s operation of the vehicle while helping to reduce or mitigate serious and fatal accidents.”

So, how does that “driver’s” Toyota Camry sound?

Lentz said the automaker’s plan was to provide systems that work together with drivers to improve safety — not just simply take over.

The plan would partially solve the liability question for automakers as cars become more self-sufficient. Clearly, the world’s largest automaker in 2015 wouldn’t be all that jazzed to take responsibility for millions of self-driving cars in the future, so it’s best to leave people in charge of their own destinies — insurance-wise, at least — for the near term.

It also shows that the world’s largest automaker is willing to go a little upstream — or at least fight the current — against the wave of self-driving tech rolling onto the market. It’s a seismic shift against convention, for now.

“We believe a car and driver can work together to increase both vehicle safety and the joy of driving,” Lentz said.

To that end, the company will be ramping up active systems on their cars such as Toyota’s Safety Sense Plus, which includes front- and rear-collision mitigation, lane-keep assistance and pedestrian safety systems.

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46 Comments on “Toyota Doesn’t Seem to Be All That Interested in Self-driving Autonopods...”


  • avatar
    derekson

    Toyota is also the only major manufacturer not on board with Apple CarPlay and/or Google’s Android Auto. Most are supporting both.

    Toyota does many things right, but I don’t think they have a good grasp on what customers are expecting for technology from their cars in the next 5-10 years.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Ford is going to have Sync3 standard on all 2017 models. That means Android Auto or Apple CarPlay for every vehicle. I expect most to do the same.

      • 0 avatar
        derekson

        It’s so bizarre to me that Toyota says their goal is younger customers (see increasingly aggressive styling), and yet they don’t recognize that Millennials are going to prioritize being able to use their phones on their in-dash screens. It’s just such an obvious thing that it’s hard for me to understand how a company as smart as Toyota could be completely missing it.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          On the other hand, typically slow GM has been all over connectivity/wireless mobility in cars. Strange days indeed.

        • 0 avatar
          turf3

          Maybe a company that prioritizes reliability recognizes that consumer-grade computer software and hardware is phenomenally unreliable?

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            It doesn’t matter that it’s “phenomenally unreliable” when it’s infotainment – we’re not talking about the ECU or the ABS controller.

            Besides, I’ve seen Toyota’s idea of good UI – it’s *abysmal*.

            That’s a far larger indictment of Toyota than can be overcome with “but the horrible infotainment system is really reliable!”.

            (Dataset: My parents’ 2014 Camry Hybrid.

            It’s a very nice car with *offensively bad* infotainment UX.

            It’s like Toyota not only wasn’t even trying, but didn’t *realize* there was anything to try *for* in the first place.

            Their 2015 Outback 3.6R is much better, and my 2015 Volvo is marginally better than the Outback, which highlights how good the Subaru system is, because one reason I picked the Volvo is that their audio and nav system had the best UX of the lot I test drove.

            [Audi came close, but the Allroad was too small.])

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “It doesn’t matter that it’s “phenomenally unreliable” when it’s infotainment”

            It matters to me a lot when my uConnect freezes and makes it so I can’t use most features of the car until I pull over and restart it or when it displays the “ERROR- SEE DEALER FOR SERVICE” message and refuses to accept any inputs.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Toyota is usually a “fast follower.” It will wait to see what works, then jump in. There is no need to lead when no one knows what, if anything, will work.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        +1

        And, in addition, the tech will most likely be developed outside of traditional auto makers, and be available to all, anyway. Toyota built it’s reputation on having processes to build impeccably reliable and usable, complex mechanical devices. Not rapidly changing, hit and miss, ephemeral software. Cluttering up the work for those engaged in the former, by forcing them to interact too closely with those engaged in the latter, could easily lead to giving up the company’s main, enduring strength.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Pch101 and stuki –
          Hammer hits nail on head.

          Toyota is conservative/cautious almost to a fault. In the world accustomed to getting a 500 dollar I-Phone every year to stay current that approach just does not work when that device happens to be imbedded in a machine expected to last 5-10 years.

          Case in point, my brother-in-law was saying it would cost $350 just to get the navigation software updated in his 6 year old pickup.

          • 0 avatar
            TonyJZX

            I fully agree with you guys that Toyota tends to not ‘innovate first’ but they have pioneered and succeeded where many havent… eg. the Prius and the Prius brand, the Lexus brand.

            Does Toyota look at the GM Bolt and BMW i3 and look at disdain since they were doing the Hybrid thing a decade ago?

            As far as drivetrains, they were still behind the ball in DI and CVT type transmissions?

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      I think Toyota have an excellent grasp of what Toyota customers want from their cars: 1) Reliable; 2) Last a long time. Unfortunately, chasing the latest consumer-grade software and integrating it into the car (as opposed to letting it remain on the cell phone) is antithetical to those goals.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Giving the customer the ability to use CarPlay or Android Auto won’t make Toyotas unreliable or have shorter lifespans.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Car infotainment that frustrates or disappoints the user shows up in lower JD Power scores. If it appears not to work or if its works badly, then it will show up as a black circle in Consumer Reports.

          Cars are extensively tested prior to their release, and cars made for the low- to middle-market are expected to be reliable.

          In contrast, technology makers release stuff when it’s barely out of beta so that they can stay ahead of the curve, and even the best of it is often not particularly reliable because there is no time to perfect it. This poses a challenge for automakers — they can’t stay behind the infotainment curve, yet leading the curve will also hurt their reputations for other reasons. Not an easy problem to fix.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Why couldn’t CR separate the technology results into its own metric and offer two sets of final scores, one including the tech score and one without?

          • 0 avatar
            turf3

            Two points:

            1) “technology” is not a synonym for “computers”.

            2) Maybe some car company could opt out of the computer-weenie arms race? Probably wouldn’t be Toyota, as they need a mass market. But I for one would be very interested in a car that used computers where they work fantastically well – for example, engine and fuel management; and didn’t even bother with “infotainment”, relying instead on some kind of a standard input jack and the owner’s smart phone. No touchscreens. No options to choose among 43 different door-locking protocols or customize the windshield washer program. Just all car, all the time.

            Seems to me that there could be a market niche for a car that does a superlative job of getting you from point A to point B, in comfort, but does not also try to be a television set, video game console, chat room, and home theater.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @turf

            You describe what I’d be interested in purchasing, but I am an outlier. Car mfgs have to cater to those who drink the Kool-Aide. What they could do is build a simple system as you describe with an independent plug in module for infotainment in the manufacturing process. What seems to be happening now is the interior systems, if not ECU, are designed *around* the infotainment system which of course is ass-backwards. You can throw away a computer not built for the latest O/S (or run Linux) due to the cost structure of said product. Cars cost ten times more, what happens when the vehicle O/S is too far behind? Seriously. There have been security patches related to car safety issued because of asshat infotainment design.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Opting out isn’t an option. I do wonder whether the automakers could change things up by adopting a modular approach, creating in-dash hardware that could be cheaply and easily swapped out for upgrades every few years.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Nonsense.

        You handle the “slow hardware in the car itself vs. fast software and user-facing hardware*” problem by providing a well-defined interface between the two.

        The infotainment system doesn’t talk to the ECU and brakes and the like; it’s essentially firewalled from most of the car.

        If you let it expose settings for e.g. parking lights, blinker preferences, etc., you expose that via the communication bus and a *well-defined API*, which is agnostic to the implementation.

        This is how change is handled – correctly – in every other field; it’s not like “software changes faster than hardware” is some novel !@@^% problem only automakers have.

        Toyota’s real problem here is that they’re *terrible at writing software* (at least user-facing software); they’re a car company, with no culture or experience with software UX … and it shows. A lot.

        (I mean, *computer hardware* companies have this problem, and they’re much more tightly coupled to software; Logitech, for instance, writes *horrible* software for their scanners. Fortunately you don’t need to use their horrible software.

        Toyota has no chance of getting this right until they realize it’s even a problem.

        Which they’ve shown no awareness of, that I’ve seen.

        They need to be ten times better to have people settle for the stuff they ship in the car.)

        • 0 avatar
          turf3

          No, the “infotainment” system will not keep you from getting to work on time when (not if) it fails. However, if I pay a bunch of money for a car I expect not to have failures on those things that are supplied with it.

          Given that: a) consumer-grade software is notoriously unreliable; and b) consumer-grade software becomes out of fashion very very quickly; and maybe c) that Toyota have not covered themselves with glory in writing “infotainment” software; I proposed that these might be explanations for why Toyota are not chasing the latest fad in “infotainment” platforms.

          I believe that if they saw this as a priority, they would address it as a priority. Maybe they have made a decision that chasing the latest fad in this area is not going to be their priority.

          I hope you enjoy trying to get your ten-year-old “infotainment” system to work when it crashes and it’s no longer supported. How’s your Blackberry working out these days?

          • 0 avatar
            JMII

            Good call. While I would prefer auto makers give up trying to come up with some usable system (because they almost all suck) an just leave it to Apple and Google (Android) the other side of the coin is consumer tech moves so fast how do you know which connector or port to even put into the car for long term success. While USB is all the rage now how long before the next great thing appears thus rendering it useless? Just look at music playback in vehicles, we have seen 8-track, tape, CD, hard drives, Satellite, USB, Bluetooth, ??? (insert next thing here). Auto companies move too slowly, was Mini-disc ever a factory option? I don’t think so… the technology was so short lived it never made it to the dashboard other via aftermarket systems.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe they know that the chances of truly self-driving cars in anything sooner than the long-term is very low.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      My guess is that because Toyota prides their products working for a really long period of time they might be worried that the Carplay or Android Auto will seem ridiculous 10 years from now when phones use totally different connectors and likely won’t be backwards compatible with the 1.0 versions of Carplay and Android Auto. But while I get that they want to offer something that’ll work years down the line they really should still also offer these because that’s what I’m looking for in my next car and they’re basically giving away buyers to Honda at this point.

      Still, it’s not hard to fix at this point since I’m sure there’s ready to go packages of code for both now so hopefully Toyota comes to their senses soon.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    And yet Camry drivers are the most likely ones to need and/or want that.

  • avatar

    The driving experience is so ridiculously boring that even the computers aren’t even interested in driving one.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    Toyota learned from Betamax.

  • avatar
    stuki

    I believe a more accurate interpretation, is that Toyota wants to retain a distinction between the car and the driver, regardless of whether the latter is a human or a robot. Developing and building robotized drivers, is not necessarily a core competency of an automaker. So, instead, focusing on installing all the sensors a robot may need, yet packaging them to be available to human drivers as well, allows Toyota to keep focusing on what they do best, building cars, while letting someone else deal with exactly who/what ends up driving the thing.

  • avatar

    Far more important (although practically under the radar of most car journalists) are Toyota’s carefully planned pilots with its i-Road. The idea is simple: if you get stuck in traffic, no auto pilot is gonna be of any help; best is to use a vehicle that can slice its way through traffic.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Oh one other point:

    How much per month are you going to have to pay so your car can subscribe to the Apple or Google “infotainment” service?

  • avatar
    wumpus

    How old are current Toyota buyers/drivers? Are they over 65? Won’t a Toyota go 15 years (especially mostly going to/from a golf course)? My father turns 80 this summer and already shouldn’t be driving. Autonomous driving can’t come fast enough (especially for Toyota owners).*

    * The biggest known issue in self-driving cars is going the speed limit. Do current Toyota drivers (the toyaboru just isn’t selling) even go that fast?

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    The reason for that is simple. If Toyota’s autonomous cars ever attain any degree of self-awareness, they will promptly drive themselves into a wall for being so hideously designed.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Finally a car company with enough common sense to realize all this autonomous talk is a lot of BS. As boring as Toyota cars may be to drive, I’d rather drive them myself (unless I win the Powerball and get an LS and driver}

  • avatar
    mcs

    And there’s this report:

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/alphabet-inc-s-google-reports-13-near-miss-incidents-with-self-driving-cars-1452695915

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Wow. Not surprised. I love cars, and new car technology, but the hubris and narcissism needed to beta test cars with no steering wheels on public roads makes me wish for a true failure from Google. It’s enrages me that my family might be exposed to their cheap pr stunt (the wheel removal is raw pr).

      If someone dies because of this I want to see a head literally roll. They are too irresponsible here for the metaphor to be sufficient.

  • avatar
    FalconRTV

    Good news from Toyota for those of us who actually enjoy driving. Let those who want autonomous vehicles take a bus to work.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      We’ll put aside the fact that public transit is not available everywhere. But why should not wanting all the stress involved in a daily commute with other non-autonomous cars immediately mean someone should not have their own vehicle?

  • avatar
    tedward

    Toyota is not going upstream against self driving technology. What toyota has done is make an accurate public statement, without misusing important terms, while describing exactly what the entire industry is doing right now. They sell cars in every zip code, and for every driving purpose, they are an actual car company and the realism in this statement reflects that.

    We should be lauding them for their accuracy and fluff-less pr, not pretending they are refusing to develop something which is “right around the corner” for their competitors. No one wants you to let go of the steering wheel, no one is saying that their software will be capable of making all trips a passenger only affair. No one, at least, who isn’t lying or over promising for some cheap pr out of gullible journalists.

  • avatar
    tedward

    “Instead our focus is on building cars that can actually enhance a driver’s operation of the vehicle while helping to reduce or mitigate serious and fatal accidents.”

    So adaptive cruise, autonomous braking, maybe a little avoidance, lane keep, blind spot monitoring, and definitely more self parking. What he really said was that Toyota plans to offer the exact same driver assistance package that everyone else is and will. This article was a pretty bad mis-read of his comments. A retraction might be in order.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Toyota doesn’t seem to be all that interested in self-driving autonopods because Toyota owners self-operate autonopods already.

  • avatar
    formula m

    Leave it to Nissan to have autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020. They have already mastered manufacturing reliable vehicles and cvt transmissions…

    Ford is the same with sync and turbos. All flash and no substance. They can’t even make a 6speed auto transmission for the focus and fiesta


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