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Toyoda Gosei stalks a new world of products



Kiyosu, Japan -- The parts that Toyota Group supplier Toyoda Gosei Co. is best known for -- plastic molding, sealing strips, brake hoses and plastic interior auto parts -- are hardly the high-tech stuff of future technology. But the Japanese giant says it will not be sidelined in the coming era of autonomous driving and electrification.

Toyoda Gosei President Naoki Miyazaki says those industry changes present opportunities, even for a relatively low-tech supplier. His plan? Branch out into new products.

The company even sees potential in the evolution of its current products, such as weatherstripping.

"Some people say Toyoda Gosei has nothing to do with electrification or autonomous driving because we are a resin and rubber supplier," Miyazaki said in an interview at his global headquarters outside Nagoya.

"We think electrification and autonomous driving present an opportunity for us," he said. "Most carmakers are very busy with [research] into electrification and autonomous driving. But they don't have enough resources. They are thinking of delegating certain areas to suppliers."

Toyoda Gosei has begun developing new radiator grilles and front fascia body panels that accommodate bundles of sensors that will go into next-generation safety systems.

"An array of sensors, lasers and cameras will be required for autonomous driving in the future," Miyazaki said. "If we can integrate sensors into these areas, such as the grille, we can increase the value of these parts."

Toyoda Gosei is also a major supplier of airbags, another area ripe for change.

While today's drivers are presumed to be belted in behind the wheel and facing forward, passengers in tomorrow's driverless cars might swivel around, recline or even face backward.

"Maybe the location of the airbag will change, and maybe the speed of deployment will change," Miyazaki said.

One goal is to slow the deployment speed of airbags so they envelop the occupants in a more cushiony way rather than discharging with potentially dangerous force.

The company deepened its airbag business in May by exchanging cross shareholdings with Japanese airbag inflator maker Daicel Corp.

Toyoda Gosei is also researching ways to protect people outside the vehicle.

At this fall's Tokyo Motor Show, the Japanese supplier showed a padded green concept vehicle called the Flesby II, which uses a soft skin made with a proprietary polymer called "e-rubber" instead of hard sheet metal on the outside to soften impact in pedestrian collisions. The skin can also communicate with pedestrians through embedded LED lights that flash warnings.

Toyoda Gosei is looking at ways to develop cockpits for self-driving cars. Another Tokyo show concept had a foldaway steering wheel and a human-machine interface that can monitor the driver's condition with cameras and sensors.

Miyazaki says it is increasingly important to offer such products packaged as systems rather than as individual parts, especially as the supplier seeks customers beyond the Toyota Group, which accounts for about 67 percent of Toyoda Gosei's global sales.

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