June 18, 2014 5:39 am JST

Japanese carmakers' R&D at all-time high

Innovation is the buzzword for Japanese automakers.

TOKYO -- Japanese automakers are expected to pump more money into innovation this fiscal year than ever before, not only to improve their environmental technology but also to develop the brains for safer -- and someday self-driving -- models.

     Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries are seen spending a combined 2.48 trillion yen ($24.09 billion) on research and development in the year ending next March, a rise of 3.4% over fiscal 2013.

     All except Nissan have bigger R&D budgets this fiscal year, with Toyota, Honda, Suzuki and Fuji Heavy planning to invest record-high amounts. Nissan's budget is close to an all-time high.

     Toyota's 960 billion yen tally, which includes spending by group member Daihatsu, will go partly toward fuel cell cars and production of power semiconductors used in hybrid vehicles. Honda will channel some of its 645 billion yen budget into developing fuel cell cars and region-specific models. Nissan will spend 500 billion yen in such areas as improving the performance of its electric cars.

     Makers of transport equipment, including cars, account for roughly a fifth of the 13 trillion yen in projected R&D outlays by listed Japanese companies this fiscal year -- the most of any sector. Their R&D spending is growing even as that of the telecommunications sector, which makes up a little more than a tenth of the total, shrinks.

     Carmakers are paying particular attention to technology for vehicles that drive themselves, a field in which they face stiff competition from the likes of Google and other information technology companies.

     Toyota is working on improvements to its driver assist system, which can detect multiple objects on the road, including pedestrians and automobiles. Nissan aims to have road-ready self-driving cars by 2020.

     By comparison, Germany's Volkswagen spent 10.2 billion euros ($13.8 billion) on R&D last year in areas such as improving fuel economy.