DETROIT—Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota Motor Corp.'s president of advanced research and development, spoke with Richard Truett, a staff reporter with Automotive News, about Toyota's progress on self-driving vehicles and how they might be used in Japan.
Q: Cars are turning into computers on wheels. Did you imagine the pace of change that's now happening in the auto industry when you started in 1980?
A: Back then I was assigned to the engine group, and we were just starting on digitizing the engine computer. Now, if you take a look at the whole car, almost everything is computerized. Nowadays, vehicles have artificial intelligence and can drive themselves. This is making vehicles safer, which benefits society.
We don't know yet if Americans will buy self-driving cars. But what do Japanese drivers say? Do they want autonomous cars?
I would say Japan also doesn't know if it wants those automated vehicles, just like in the United States. However, as you know, the population of Japan has been decreasing as families have fewer children. This has resulted in fewer drivers for trucks and buses. So from those industries, there is higher demand for automation for trucks and buses to fill that gap.
For passenger vehicles, there are actually demands for automated vehicles for senior drivers. We have more senior drivers in our society. Normally, the children are taking the driving license away from their parents. And that is causing a generation to not be able to drive and have difficulty getting around.
Should governments around the world work together to harmonize regulations for self-driving vehicles?
It would be ideal to have one set of regulations. As a car maker, we would like to see one set of regulations for safety and for emissions. But then, at the same time, if we have some differences, the OEMs will be competing against each other, and that will contribute to improvement.
Many companies are investing billions of dollars doing essentially the same research. Why not work together with General Motors and Honda, for instance, and share costs and speed the process of creating new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles?
We are developing the same technologies, but there are subtle differences. And also the developing technologies are not mature. We are still in the trial-and-error stage, and so I don't know if working together at this stage will speed up the development of technologies. I think it's more beneficial now to be competing with each, and maybe, once we get to a certain point, we can work together.