JUL 18 2018

Commentary: The Suzuki-Toyota Partnership – Are Such Partnerships Here to Stay?

AUTOMOTIVE

In February 2017, Suzuki and Toyota signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for business partnership. The two Japanese carmakers drafted framework for collaboration on future technology development, joint manufacturing, and market development projects. Both companies agreed to share their R&D, product portfolio, infrastructure, and dealer networks in India.

The collaboration includes mutual supply of passenger vehicles between the two companies for the Indian market. Maruti Suzuki (Suzuki’s Indian subsidiary) will supply Toyota with between 30,000 and 50,000 units of Baleno and Vitara models, while Toyota will provide Suzuki with 10,000 units of Corolla annually. These vehicles will be marketed nationally through their respective sales networks. In addition, Toyota and Denso Corporation (owned by Toyota) will offer technology transfer to Suzuki for developing a compact and highly efficient powertrain. Toyota’s Indian arm, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) will manufacture models developed by Suzuki for sale in India, Africa, and other emerging markets via their global sales networks. Further, in November 2017, both companies announced plans to co-develop and introduce electric cars (EV) in India by 2020. For this, they are setting up a lithium ion battery plant in the Indian state of Gujarat.

What does it mean for both OEMs?

By tapping into Toyota’s under-utilized manufacturing capacity in India, Maruti Suzuki will get access to the much needed extra production bandwidth. The OEM has so far relied heavily on Fiat for its diesel engines. With the new collaboration, it will have access to Toyota’s superior diesel engines that will help Suzuki to improve its brand perception in the Indian market. The partnership will also provide Maruti Suzuki with a chance to take a stab at the executive sedan space by offering Toyota’s Corolla via its sales network. Lastly, Suzuki will leverage Toyota’s technology and EV expertise, an area where the OEM is relatively weak and definitely needs improvements.

The partnership will give Toyota access to Suzuki’s expertise in India. It will hopefully help it to penetrate the low-priced compact cars market, a segment it has failed to crack so far. The OEM relies mainly on diesel car sales in India. However, the new partnership will help Toyota to fill the current product gaps, broaden their portfolio with petrol cars from Suzuki, and achieve higher sales in India.

What does it mean for Indian automotive industry and customers?

At present, both carmakers have started sharing a few of their models with each other. However, there is a potential for more models in pipeline, followed by joint product development and manufacturing platform sharing (shared engineering and production efforts for different vehicle models). This is likely to lead to the introduction of new cars in various market segments. The co-developed cars are promised to have Toyota’s technological sophistication as well as Suzuki’s affordable ticket price, providing customers with broader and better options. In addition, the partnership can be expected to make both carmakers compete with each other for performance improvement, this will result in enhanced products and services for customers.

From an industry perspective, the joint manufacturing will result in creating more local jobs. Volume production will mean that both OEMs will also look to source components locally for cost savings. This will provide some boost to domestic components industry and government’s Make in India initiative. Suzuki’s size, scale, market knowledge, as well as unrivalled supply chain in India, along with Toyota’s global expertise and technology know-how, make this tandem a great fit in the context of kick-starting, promoting, and meeting the Indian government’s ambitious 2030 EV targets. In the EV space, the partnership will contribute to manufacturing more efficient cars and aid in development of the automotive and ancillary industries.

Are such partnerships here to stay?

Since growth opportunities in developed automotive markets are confined, global carmakers have set their eyes on emerging markets as these are projected to represent around 60% of the total global auto sales by 2021. India is on a fast track towards becoming the world’s third-largest auto market thanks to the rapidly growing passenger car market. According to IHS Markit estimates, annual new car sales are expected to reach 5.1 million in 2020, an increase of about 30% from 2016-2017 figures. Therefore, it looks like a logical move for global OEMs, such as Toyota, to look at all possible collaboration avenues to capture the growth opportunities in these markets.

The global automotive industry is constantly evolving triggered by rapidly rising new technologies, changing customer preferences, and multiplying sustainability policies. Carmakers globally are faced with massive costs to develop new technologies for highly energy-efficient cars. To remain competitive in such rapidly changing industry, OEMs need to increasingly look for strategic collaborations that will enable them to work together and leverage their shared expertise to optimize cost as well as performance. As a result, increasing number of alliances are seen where carmakers collaborate by sharing platforms and joint manufacturing for cost savings in R&D, manufacturing, and components procurement. This is especially true in emerging markets where growth opportunities are ample, but own set of challenges exists, and such alliances are increasingly becoming catalysts for growth. Recent examples include five MoUs signed between Mahindra and Ford to jointly develop new products in India and other emerging markets, or a similar alliance between China’s Geely Group and Daimler.

While the coming together of two Japanese OEMs with two different working cultures may pose its own challenges, both carmakers need this collaboration to succeed for their own reasons. For Toyota, the reason is to increase its presence in a country that is soon to become the world’s third-largest auto market. Suzuki’s reason is the much needed technical know-how to enter the EV space. While the success of this partnership at present remains uncertain and it will be interesting to see how this partnership pans out in the next few years, one thing that is certain is the fact that one can expect more such collaborations in the near future, as carmakers will look for partners to better penetrate new markets, develop new products to grow, at the same time optimize their R&D, manufacturing, and procurement costs.