TOKYO -- Japanese auto manufacturers are raising their research and development spending to record levels in the current year ending March 2016, helped by strong sales in North America and elsewhere.
Their efforts to make vehicles more fuel efficient, environmentally friendly and safer will be a shot in the arm for domestic makers of electronics and other components, and the raw materials that go into cars.
Much of the automakers' R&D is happening at home. Toyota Motor plans to increase its R&D budget for fiscal 2015 by around 50 billion yen ($414.4 million) from 1 trillion yen the previous year. Its main focus will be on developing fuel cell, hybrid and other eco-car technologies. The company expects fuel economy standards to rise in both industrialized and developing countries. With this in mind, Toyota is working on low-cost, environmentally friendly technologies for small trucks and other vehicles.
Mazda Motor plans to lift its R&D spending by 9% on the year to 120 billion yen. The company's Skyactiv technology, which boosts performance while cutting emissions, is used in Mazda's popular CX-5 sport utility vehicle and other models. The company aims to improve its cars' fuel economy and environmental performance even more by refining the technology.
Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes Subaru cars, plans to increase its R&D spending from 84 billion yen last year to around 90 billion yen. Responding to tougher environmental regulations in the U.S., the company will push ahead with green technologies, including hybrid vehicles, an area where Subaru has lagged behind competitors.
Vehicle safety is another area of focus at Japanese carmakers. Toyota will invest in projects to develop sensors and artificial intelligence, with the goal of commercializing autonomous driving systems to help prevent accidents. Japan's biggest automaker set up a division dedicated to autonomous driving last year, looking to catch up with U.S. and European rivals in this field.
Fuji Heavy is also working on safety, including its EyeSight driver-support system.
Helped by the yen's weakness and strong sales in the North American market, Toyota is forecast to have earned a record operating profit in fiscal 2014. Mazda and Fuji Heavy also likely ended the year with record earnings. These companies are leveraging their strong fundamentals to invest in future growth.
Toyota spends 80% of its R&D budget in Japan, creating training opportunities for young engineers. Japanese automakers' R&D spending may lead to advances in related industries including machinery and electronics.