Toyota: CEO wants its driverless cars to know how you feel – USA TODAY
President Trump applauded Toyota and Mazda’s plan to set up the joint venture in the USA and create up to 4,000 jobs.
Several weeks ago I saw the future of cars laid out by Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s CEO, in a presentation at its American headquarters in Plano, Texas.
He wants your Toyota to be more fun than anyone else’s vehicle. So, the company is creating a car soon that will interact with your emotions at a hugely more personal level than others, including Tesla.
Akio is the most genuine car guy running an automaker since Lee Iaccoca of Chrysler. He thinks huge, futuristic, bold and all encompassing.
As grandson of Toyota’s founder, he brings joy, inspiration and clarity to cars like I’ve never seen before. Akio wants cars to be fun — and he knows fun — like some adult kid in the car candy store. He loves racing them, critiquing them, improving and working on them. He loves being with car people, and fantasizing everything car-ish. He is lit up about making those fantasies fun realities for you.
Shifting toward autonomous driving, Toyota is shaping technology to make it your auto soul mate — my words, not theirs. By 2020, Toyota will have more data on what we all do than Facebook, and it’ll gush from millions of their interactive cars. Your Toyota will soon know your personal preferences, and society’s, so that your travel can be uniquely tailored to your emotions, and individual preferences for fun. Emotion on top of safety.
Two small examples: offering you optional routes based on what you like seeing while riding — from past choices, or in-route recreational suggestions with detailed info tailored to you. “You like forests — want to stop at this special park nearby and see its unique trees? Here is what’s there.”
At the heart of all this is emotional measurement through artificial intelligence.
Driverless cars must be more than safe, the current standards everyone strives for. But the future is sensory and emotion.
Dr. Gill Pratt, who runs the Toyota Research Institute, is as plugged into Silicon Valley thinking as anyone. He explained to me a world where your Toyota will monitor you and you monitor it. That way your auto soul mate has your back and you have its’. What they call Guardian Autonomy lets your Toyota take control from you — to protect you from sudden danger in ways you will agree to. It returns control to you when near hysteria has calmed to normal heart and breathing rates. Emotional comfort is central to fun driving.
Another tiny example: At work you order something from Amazon on a smart phone. Amazon, which gets your Toyota’s GPS location and is given one-time trunk access, delivers the package.
As for the fuel of the future? Akio believes his company must absolutely dominate them all: electric, hybrid, hydrogen/fuel cell, solar and, yes, fossil fuel. Different geographies, political and social, will be dominated by different technologies.
Cars weren’t always so efficient or safe. My father always said to drive something bigger than others so you were crash-safer. That was the era of big fins, unique bodies, tube tires, no seat belts, and hard metal dashboards.
Autos are so much safer and better now. Annual crash deaths are way down in a larger population. Fuel efficiency has skyrocketed. The phrase “lemon,” meaning cars with endless maintenance nightmares, has virtually disappeared.
But they’re mostly boring. Within categories, cars look virtually identical from 100 yards on a freeway. Variations are minimal, and hardly compelling.
For a company like Toyota to shift from good to great now means more safety, efficiency and choice, with a heavy overlay of fun. Toyota plans to unveil all this and more at 2020’s Olympics in Tokyo.
So should you buy the stock? Not now. While Toyota is currently growing faster than the biggies in America, with annual North American sales up 15%, the time for big ticket consumer discretionary stocks is in the first half of bull markets, not the back half where we are now. But that, too, just might jive nicely with the Tokyo Olympics.
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Ken Fisher is the founder and executive chairman of Fisher Investments, author of 11 books, four of which were New York Times bestsellers, and is No. 184 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Follow him on Twitter @KennethLFisher