Toyota buys a way into diesels with stake in Isuzu

Problem Solved: Toyota buys a way into diesels with stake in Isuzu

AutoWeek | Published 11/13/06, 3:08 pm et

TOKYO – In late July, Katsuaki Watanabe picked up the phone. For the second time in nine months, the Toyota Motor Corp. president was ready to open his wallet and buy his way out of a problem.

In October 2005 he had purchased an 8.7 percent stake in Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. from General Motors for about $315 million. Toyota plans to use the Subaru plant in Indiana to build Camry cars.

This time he called Yoshinori Ida, the president of Isuzu Motors Ltd. His proposal: Combine forces on diesel engines and alternative drivetrains.

“I was really surprised” and “puzzled” by the call, Ida says. Toyota rarely pursues other automakers’ technology. But the more Ida thought about it, the more it made sense. Toyota desperately needed what Isuzu had: diesel expertise and diesel-manufacturing capacity.

Watanabe’s call to Ida has paid off. Toyota has purchased 5.6 percent of Isuzu. For approximately $375 million, Toyota now has access to Isuzu’s army of more than 800 experienced diesel engineers. These same engineers developed GM’s successful Duramax diesel engine for light trucks in the United States.

Wanted: Diesel expertise

The timing of the call was the result of Isuzu’s availability and Watanabe’s growing awareness of Toyota’s shortfall in diesel expertise.

In April, GM had sold its final 7.9 percent of Isuzu to raise about $300 million, after having held partial ownership of Isuzu since 1971.

“We think we need to strengthen our diesel capabilities,” Watanabe says. “We anticipate the growth of diesel engines going forward.”

Several events led him to that conclusion.

Despite Toyota’s efforts to promote hybrids, Europe remained unconvinced. European buyers prefer diesels, which offer improved fuel economy at lower cost than hybrids.

Diesel’s share there has been climbing for years. In the first eight months of 2006, diesel engines powered more than half of all passenger vehicles sold in Europe.

Toyota’s diesel offerings are adequate in Europe. But the automaker is not in the forefront of clean diesel technology.

At this spring’s Geneva auto show, several European carmakers started talking seriously about diesel hybrids.

A few weeks later, Toyota launched its hybrid-powered Lexus GS 450h in Japan. Masatami Takimoto, executive vice president for powertrain r&d, was primed to brag about the hybrid powertrain’s extra performance.

Instead, Japanese reporters began grilling him about Toyota’s plans for a diesel hybrid. Takimoto responded like a deer in headlights. Hybrids use one or more electric motors and an internal combustion engine to power the wheels.

Flanked by Honda

In May, rival Honda Motor Co. flanked Toyota on diesels. Honda promised to sell a diesel-engine car clean enough to meet gasoline-engine emissions levels in North America and Japan within three years. Watanabe was left mumbling that Toyota is working on clean diesel engines, too, but isn’t ready to say when the engines will come to market.

Toyota and Isuzu negotiated for three months. To cement their relationship, Toyota was willing to buy a stake in Isuzu. Toyota didn’t have a specific number of shares in mind, says Watanabe, when it began talking to Isuzu’s largest shareholders.

By Nov. 3, the two companies were ready to unveil the broad outline of their deal.

The two companies plan to combine their diesel and alternative drivetrain efforts.

“Isuzu’s diesel engines will now be mounted on Toyota cars,” Ida says. He won’t say which cars, or which markets, will get the engines. That will be decided later, he says.

The two companies will study the following areas for possible collaboration:

R&d, and then production, of small diesel engines, led by Isuzu.

Joint r&d of emissions control technologies and devices for diesels, led by Isuzu.

Environmental technology, including that related to engines and alternative fuels, led by Toyota.

Diesel hybrid?

While the deal addresses Toyota’s diesel shortcomings in the near term, it also positions Toyota to reclaim the green mantle from clean-diesel leaders. Says Watanabe, “In the future we may come up with a diesel hybrid as well.”

Toyota will buy 100 million shares of Isuzu stock for about $375.0 million from trading houses Mitsubishi Corp. and Itochu Corp. The stock purchase was to have been completed Friday, Nov. 10.

Toyota certainly can afford it. In the six months ended Sept. 30, its operating profits rose 35.1 percent to $9.27 billion. Indeed, according to Takeshi Suzuki, Toyota’s senior managing director for finance, one of the company’s challenges is finding ways to return more profits to shareholders.

After the purchase, Isuzu’s largest shareholders will be Mitsubishi Corp. with 9.7 percent of the stock, Itochu with 7.2 percent and Toyota with 5.9 percent. … C01ARCHIVE

So it looks as if Toyota is going to buy up most of the automotive industry. First Daihatsu, Hino, Yamaha, and now Isuzu.

seems like that 8) what’s next?

seems like that 8) what’s next?