Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda, ascended to his role as president of Toyota in June of 2009. Thanks to the Great Recession, he was saddled with the recovery from Toyota’s biggest loss in its history: $4.4 billion for the fiscal year. Before he could make a dent in that staggering number, he faced a public relations firestorm starting when a 2009 Lexus sedan accelerated out of control and crashed, killing all four people inside.
Toyota’s unintended acceleration crisis and related tragedies that followed resulted in the recall of millions of vehicles. Clawing out of the ashes, Toyota decided to “stop everything” and reduce fixed costs, including R&D expenses, according to the Toyota Times in 2020. A partnership opportunity with Ford took shape and in August of 2011, Ford and Toyota triumphantly announced a collaboration to develop a new hybrid system for light trucks and SUVs.
Today, both companies have 3.5-liter V6 hybrid truck engines. But not thanks to that teamup. Let’s unpack how that happened.
Touted as an equal partnership, the stated goal was to accelerate the process and deliver better fuel efficiency for rear-wheel-drive vehicles. This made sense because Toyota was the undisputed king of hybrid technology, and Ford was fighting its own battles post-recession. Maybe these two behemoths could ride the wave of a recovering economy by pooling resources and knowledge. At first, it seemed like a winning strategy that would benefit customers above all. On the outside, it looked a little like a “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” exchange; indeed, once each player compared notes, the partnership saw the beginning of the end.
In the early stages of the flirtation, then-Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally said: “By working together, we will be able to serve our customers with the very best affordable, advanced powertrains, delivering even better fuel economy. This is the kind of collaborative effort that is required to address the big global challenges of energy independence and environmental sustainability.”
On the other side, Akio Toyoda said, “Toyota is extremely proud to join Ford in developing a hybrid system for pickup trucks and SUVs. Not only is this tie-up clearly one aimed at making automobiles ever better, it should also become an important building block for future mobility in the U.S. By building a global, long-term relationship with Ford, our desire is to be able to continue to provide people in America automobiles that exceed their expectations.”
Eighteen months later, the breakup was official. In July 2013, Toyota announced via press release that they completed their feasibility study for collaboration with Ford on the development of a new hybrid system for light trucks and SUVs, and they agreed to develop hybrid systems individually. It’s a little murky which manufacturer benefited more or if they spun away from each other with fresh ideas.
What is clear is the at the end of the brief dalliance, each company took its toys and went home. Now with the launch of the 2022 Tundra, people are talking about the fact that the 2021 F-150 has a twin-turbo hybrid V6, and so does the 2022 Tundra. Coincidence? In fact, yes.
Ford’s 2021 hybrid F-150 mates a 44-hp electric motor (and 221 pound-feet of torque) to its 394-hp, 492 pound-foot 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost engine. In total, the output maxes out at 430 hp and 570 lb-ft of grunt. In contrast, Toyota’s brand-new 2022 Tundra tops Ford with an extra seven horsepower for a total of 437 generated by its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 hybrid and bests the F-150 in torque by 13 for a total of 583 pound-feet.
When it comes to towing, Ford has the edge: with the max tow package, the 2021 F-150 with a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost can tow up to 14,000 pounds. Toyota’s iForce Max tops out at 12,000; and by the way that’s a jump of 2,000 pounds more than the previous generation.
Comparing battery power, the F-150 mounted a 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery under the bed, while Toyota opted for a 1.5-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery stowed under the rear seat. Ford marketed the generator features of the 2021 F-150 and its ability to power several electric tools or even a whole house.
Even the displacement is different: the F-150’s V6 EcoBoost is 3,497 cubic centimeters and the Tundra’s V6 iForce Max is 3,445 cubic centimeters. The compression ratio of the EcoBoost is 10.5:1; iForce Max is 10.4:1.
For those who claim Toyota is copying Ford’s engine, Toyota execs set the record straight.
“The i-Force and i-Force Max do share some basic architecture with the Lexus LS 500 twin-turbo V6, but the engineering team had to make significant changes so it can stand up to the higher average duty cycle demands placed on truck powertrains,” said Toyota Product Communications Senior Analyst Josh Burns. “That means things like greater cooling capacity, superior oil cooling capability and even greater oil volume will help support a full-size truck application and its payload and towing demands as well. The core concept was to increase performance and efficiency over the previous generation, but at the end of the day, it needs to be a no-compromise engine. Our engineers met this demand with flying colors.”
Toyota’s Joe Moses said the company’s data shows that Tundra buyers tend to be more active-outdoor enthusiast types than the work-truck customer of Ford’s F-150, and they’re distancing themselves from any similarities. For instance, Toyota’s Chief Engineer for the Tundra Mike Sweers told me they discovered their customers don’t want the extra cost for adding a generator to the truck (like Ford does for its full-size truck). For less money, he said, Toyota’s customers can buy their own generator and use it where and when they want.
If the brand is reading the room properly, it should have a decent uptake on the V6 hybrid, but expect more of its truck buyers to choose the gas-only V6 iForce for now.
In any case, both engines have larger towing capacity and the gas-only V6 has better fuel economy than before, so they seem to be on the right track. Just a couple of days ago, Toyota put an exclamation point on its electrification commitment with an announcement that it will invest about $3.4 billion in automotive batteries in the U.S. through 2030.
Currently, electrified vehicles account for nearly 25 percent of Toyota’s U.S. sales volume. The company expects that number to rise to nearly 70 percent by 2030. To meet the growing demand, Toyota continues to steadily expand its lineup of electrified vehicles (including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, fuel cell, and battery electric vehicles) from 55 models to about 70 models by 2025.
“Look at the marketplace and where it’s going,” Burns said. “We’re all moving in the same direction of emissions and fuel economy.”
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